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Friday, December 23, 2011

Guidance for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un from Cambodia

By Mary Kay Magistad

Mourning continues in North Korea, with copious public weeping, and a steady stream of visitors past the glass sarcophagus where deceased leader Kim Jong Il lies in state. His son, Kim Jung Un, now faces the prospect of taking up the mantle. The young Kim is in his late 20s, and it’s expected he’ll get a fair amount of guidance from relatives and other advisers in the tight knot of collective leadership.

But for encouragement in blazing his own path, he might want to look at the record of someone who came to power at an even younger age.

When Norodom Sihanouk became king of Cambodia in the early 1940s, the French colonial government breathed easy. Here was an 18-year-old playboy prince, they could easily manipulate. Or so they thought.

A dozen years later, Sihanouk sent them packing, and declared Cambodia an independent, non-aligned state. That such a young leader could so defy expectations might be an encouraging thought for young Kim Jung Un, as he ponders his future.

This week, Kim Jong Un paid his respects to his father, lying in state, strolling in with his stylish semi-shaved haircut, his black suit filled out by many a good meal. Behind him stood the party elders who may support and guide him – or, may try to manipulate him, as the French tried with Sihanouk.

Behind him stood the party elders who may support and guide him – or, may try to manipulate him, as the French tried with Sihanouk.

Sihanouk happens to be a long-time friend of North Korea. North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, gave Sihanouk a villa in Pyongyang, which he used often. Kim also gave Sihanouk use of a North Korean film crew, and in the 1960s, Sihanouk would make movies starring himself, his wife and children, and his ministers.

The storylines of these films tended to be similar – a handsome young prince learns about a plot to bring him down, and through his ingenuity and righteousness, puts down the threat and preserves peace and happiness in his kingdom.

By the time these films were made, in the ’60s, Sihanouk had been in power for a quarter century, and it was kind of going to his head. He’d been so good at outmaneuvering the French, he tried to do the same thing by playing opposing sides off each other during the Vietnam War. That included letting Vietnam ship weapons across Cambodia, which led to the US bombing Cambodia.

In Australian filmmaker Jim Gerrand’s “The Prince and the Prophecy,” Sihanouk explained what he was trying to do. “I did not want to do harm to the United States. I like Western culture…My wife is half-French, half-Cambodian. No Vietnamese blood. And I did not consort with any Vietnamese girl when I was a playboy,” Sihanouk said. But he added, “By patriotism, I had to help the North Vietnamese, and I got their promise to respect always Cambodia as an independent state.”

That’s not quite how it worked out.
Sihanouk’s general, Lon Nol, didn’t like how Sihanouk was cozying up to the Vietnamese. So Lon Nol staged a coup, and Sihanouk was out. The Chinese then persuaded Sihanouk to become a figurehead leader of the communist Khmer Rouge. Many Cambodians joined him – because they revered Sihanouk and wanted him back in power. But this time, it was the Khmer Rouge who outmaneuvered him. They used him to come to power, and once there, they put him under palace arrest and killed several members of his family. Almost two million other Cambodians also died under Khmer Rouge rule.

Still, years later, Sihanouk told filmmaker Jim Gerrand he stood by his record.

“I do not think that I make serious mistakes. May I quote?,” he said, reaching for notes he had on his lap, from something a diplomat had said about him. ‘Sihanouk made mistakes like any other man, but he was a fantastic diplomat and a great nationalist. He kept his people happy, well-fed and at peace by walking a very thin tightrope between the big powers.’”

Kim Jung Un has a little tightrope walking of his own to do now. So the lessons for him?

Use low expectations to your advantage, and do it early. Don’t make deals with China without thinking carefully about the consequences. And don’t get too drunk on your early successes.

In the end, Sihanouk failed in his own tightrope walking, and Cambodians suffered for it. North Koreans are already suffering. They can only hope their new young leader offers them something better.
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Pitsuwan: ASEAN Members Look Forward to Cambodia’s Chairmanship

Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, says Cambodia can rely on the support and cooperation of its neighbors as it prepares to take over the chairmanship of the regional bloc at the end of the month.

Analysts say Phnom Penh will have to juggle a variety of challenges, including ASEAN's efforts at forming an economic union by 2015 and disputes between several ASEAN members and China over the South China Sea. Cambodia must also manage its own border dispute with Thailand.

But Pitsuwan told VOA's Khmer service after a meeting this week with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong that Cambodia can set an example for the rest of the world.

“A lot of hope is being pinned upon the chairmanship of Cambodia because we're only three years into the community 2015 and most of the global community is looking at us with Cambodia as the chair of how ASEAN is going to conduct our business, our affairs as we move into the community in the year 2015.”

Pitsuwan added that other members of the 10-nation bloc have expressed their confidence that the bloc will prosper under Cambodia's chairmanship.

“All members of ASEAN and all the dialogue partners have full confidence that Cambodia is going to chair ASEAN with great success and all of them pledge support through me, through the Secretariat that they will do everything necessary that Cambodia wants cooperation and support and coordination from them. They're ready to help to support and to cooperate with Cambodia as chair of ASEAN because they know that ASEAN is the most successful regional organization in the world today.”

Cambodia will take over the chairmanship from Indonesia, which used the office to help relieve tensions over the South China Sea and the Thai-Cambodian border during the past year.

The group recently agreed to permit Burma to serve as chairman in 2014.
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McRaes teach English to Cambodian teens

Teaching English and working with 30 Cambodian teens is how two retired Wilkes County educators, Jim and Ramona McRae, spent their Thanksgiving this year.

The trip reunited Mrs. McRae with Young Hi Seo and her brother, Jae, former students at Millers Creek Elementary School. Mrs. Seo, 37, lives in Singapore and works for NBC Universal. In her spare time, she and her husband volunteer and support a program run by a Korean nun in Prey Veng, a remote Cambodian village.

Mrs. Seo encouraged the McRaes to join her and her husband in their annual work with a group of students from the Prey Poun High School close to Prey Veng.

The experience was life changing for the McRaes, who have been traveling internationally since 1978. Their latest trip was the most extreme travel they have experienced, agree the McRaes.

“It is a different world,” said Mrs. McRae. “”This was a very humbling experience and made us appreciative of our standard of living.”

Transportation in villages such as Prey Veng, where the McRaes stayed is mostly by bicycles or scooters. Electricity in those villages is scarce and only generated by batteries powered by gas generators. The diet for most people consists of rice and vegetables. Most villagers’ houses are on stilts with floors made of bamboo slats. Below the floors are frequently chickens, dogs and pigs roaming the ground.

The students they worked with have virtually no knowledge of western culture, but are hungry for knowledge and the opportunity to improve their English.

“These teens want to be successful and want to be helped,” said Mrs. McRae.

The couple knew they were in a vastly different place as soon as they got off the plane.

“We saw a father, mother and baby riding together on a scooter. The father was steering the bike with one hand and holding an IV connected to the baby in the other,” said McRae.

Sister Regina, the 50-year-old Korean nun who runs the school program the McRaes worked in, told them the couple was probably leaving the hospital.

They quickly learned that seeing three people on a scooter was not uncommon. The McRaes also realized that Sister Regina lives a life remarkably similar to Mother Theresa.

Cambodia, a 69,898 sq. mile southeast Asian country is still recovering from three decades of war. Equally as devastating was the reign of Pol Pot who led a ruthless campaign against western culture and capitalism, forcing the people to work in collective farms. He tortured and killed 1 million to 3 million people, many of whom he saw as intellectuals.

“Anyone who wore eye glasses and therefore read, were considered enemies of the state,” said McRae.

Since 1993 and the end of Pol Pot, Cambodia has seen much progress, but has a long way to go.

Sister Regina was motivated to begin her scholars program eight years ago. She was selected as a guide for a Cambodian Buddhist Monk in Korea. He shared with her his country’s history and its struggle now to become more developed, leading to an improved way of life for the Cambodian people.

Six months later Sister Regina moved to Cambodia and began her program of helping the 30 top teens or scholars attending Prey Poun, a government run high school of 800 students. She also raises funds for buildings which benefit all students in the school.

Assistance includes giving each of the students a bicycle, which is the only way for them to get to school if they live more than three miles away because there is no public transportation.

Sister Regina helps the scholars earn money by tutoring younger students with English. This is necessary because most families rely on everyone in the family, including their children, to earn money for their survival. Usually this means working in a rice paddy, so other provisions have to be made for the students in Sister Regina’s program.

Those strong family values have caused the scholars to dream of a different kind of career from their parents which will enable them to help their village. The students are also given scholarships to continue on to college. Many of Sister Regina’s students are already in college or have graduated.

“Every kid we worked with wants to be an accountant, banker, teacher or doctor. But they want to return and help their village, not move away to Singapore,” said Mrs. McRae.

The first time the McRaes visited the high school was Thanksgiving. They administered an English test to the students.

“This was a very emotional day for us. We wanted all the students to go with us and that was impossible. During lunch with the students, I realized many of the parents had made an extra effort to send the best they had because we would be eating with them,” said Mrs. McRae,

The top five would be traveling with the McRaes, Sister Regina and Mrs. Seo on a three day trip to Siep Reap and Ankgor Wat, the ancient temple complex close to Siep Reap.

This was the first time most of the students had left their village and they were amazed at the experience, said Mrs. McRae.

“These students have no electricity, no access to computers and only see TV if someone in the village happens to have a generator and TV,” said Mrs. McRae.

The six-hour trip to Seim Reap was through little villages, towns, rice patties and jungle. The students were also able to continue working on their English through conversations with the McRaes and Mrs. Seo.

On their return from Seim Reap, the McRaes went into rice patties to teach English to young children. They traveled on the back of a motorbike, driven by young Cambodians.

“When we reached our separate destinations, we were met by 30 eager little kids waiting for the Americans to come. They were ages 7-14, but looked younger because of their poor diet,” said Mrs. McRae.

After the lesson, they distributed bread, prizes and clothes collected by Mrs. Seo and her friends in Singapore.

Contributions are vital for Sister Regina’s program. Several methods are available, including sponsoring a child for $10 a month, which the McRaes are now doing. The little girl they are sponsoring cried when she learned this because her family is so poor, said Mrs. McRae.

While their eight-day trip to Cambodia was only a portion of their six week travels this fall, it was most definitely the highlight.

They are anticipating a return to Cambodia in a few years and hope to continue supporting Sister Regina’s program, who for them embodies the following quote from Mother Theresa.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
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CAMBODIA: Unions threaten strikes over short-term contracts

Union leaders have been meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh this week to look at ways to curb the garment industry's widespread use of temporary or short-term contracts for hiring workers - and have warned they could resort to strike action if changes aren't made.

The unions are uniting to put pressure on the government, factory owners and buyers to take steps to put an end to the practice, which they say is illegal.

The short-term, temporary contracts - referred to in Cambodia as 'fixed-duration contracts' - are repeatedly renewed. However, their use can lead to increased worker insecurity, denies workers benefits to which they are entitled, including maternity leave, and can coerce workers into forced overtime.

However while the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents employers, confirmed that temporary contract are used, it warned foreign investors' interest would be harmed if the government backs the unions' requests.

Of major concern for the unions is the face that fixed-duration contracts are being used to avoid paying maternity leave to female staff, who make up the overwhelming majority of a workforce that produces about 85% of the Kingdom's exports.

"Women on fixed-duration contracts often have to choose between keeping their jobs and having children," said Chheng Kim Lang, a representative of the Cambodia Labour Confederation. She said that because the labour law requires employers to provide maternity leave to employees who have worked for them for one year, factory managers were using six-month contracts to avoid this.

Short-term contracts also hurt "labour productivity and corporate competitiveness by discouraging human resource development and jeopardising industrial relations", a statement from the union leaders said.

At some garment and footwear factories, up to 90% of staff are on short-term contracts, they said, adding that the use of such contracts is far less prevalent in countries whose garment industries compete with Cambodia's.

Although the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia says the labour ministry has interpreted the law to allow for the indefinite use of fixed-duration contracts, not all of its members use them.

Kevin Plenty, a member of GMAC's executive committee, said his company, Quantum Clothing (Cambodia) Ltd, uses long-term contracts "because they allow us to increase productivity and efficiency."

A study the sector's recruitment practices earlier this year warned the use of short-term employment contracts in Cambodia not only threatens to erode the industry's competitiveness but also violates labour laws and could lead to widespread unrest.
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