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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Ten Cambodians killed during police chases in Thailand


By Mom Kunthear and Shane Worrell


Ten Cambodians were killed and 20 injured in two high-speed police chases in Thailand over the weekend, officials said yesterday.

Pich Vanna, deputy chief of the Cambodian-Thai border relations office, said the victims had crossed the border illegally for work.

During the first accident in Chonburi province on Saturday night, an exhausted driver sped from police, he said.

“The driver was sleepy and [his van] smashed into a tree, killing four people – two men and two women,” Pich Vanna said.
On Sunday night, police were chasing a van full of Cambodian and Thai workers when it crashed in Chachoengsao province, he said.

“Their van crashed while they tried to avoid Thai police. In this second accident, there were six people who died – four men and two women.”

About 20 people were sent to hospital and officials were preparing yesterday to send bodies back to Cambodia, Pich Vanna said.

Ouk Keo Ratanak, a spokesman at Banteay Meanchey provincial hall, said Thai officials were still trying to identify all the workers, but believed most had been cheated by brokers.

“Most of the illegal workers always leave to Thailand at night time, that’s why they face dangers like this,” he said.

Three Cambodian men were killed in a road accident in the same province on April 23, he added.

Sem Chausok, a human rights monitor at Licadho, said migrant workers who crossed illegally into Thailand often found themselves in dangerous situations.

“They don’t have a company to help them, or legal documents . . . and are always scared of and avoid Thai police officials,” he said, adding that many were also abused by brokers.

An International Labour Organization spokesman said Cambodia’s labour market was increasing by 300,000 people every year and “irregular migration” was still the cheapest, simplest and fastest option for crossing the border for work. Read more!

Toll Royal derails regional projects

The unclear future of Cambodia’s national railway, following Toll Royal Railways’ suspension of operations on March 31, has cast doubt not only on the oft-delayed redevelopment project but also on a larger build-out expected to connect much of Asia.

Toll Royal, a joint venture by Australian logistics firm Toll Group and Cambodian conglomerate Royal Group of Companies, had halted operations after continued setbacks in the redevelopment prevented the company generating sufficient revenues, sources familiar with the matter told the Post in March.

But the stoppage also will affect the completion of the so-called Singapore-Kunming, China line, which has been under discussion for nearly 20 years and in which Cambodia is expected to be one of three key links.

“Obviously, this has implications well beyond the borders of Cambodia. It’s a major setback,” Pierre Chartier, a transportation expert at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia, said from Bangkok yesterday.

 Slower progress on Cambodia’s rail lines could mean a slowdown for regional connectivity in general.

 If rehabilitation and operational efforts decelerate on the Cambodian side, efforts to restore connecting tracks in Thailand and Vietnam could also lose momentum, Chartier said.

The Cambodian rail model was a unique one, not only in the region but also in the world, Chartier said.

While most governments look internally for rail operators, Toll’s concession was a bellwether for privatisation in the industry, he said.

 “It was an interesting model for development. This could have created a best-practice example for other countries. The fact that [the Toll concession] is causing a lot of problems is not going to be good for the cause of privatisation.”

Domestically, delayed rail progress would mean more traffic on the roads, more pollution and more vehicle accidents, Chartier noted.

 But more than six weeks after Toll Group notified Cambodian officials of its imminent suspension of rail operations in the Kingdom, neither the government nor the company has issued a statement formally announcing the freeze.

The Cambodian government has placed the burden on Toll Group to make clear its intentions and future in the Kingdom.

“I don’t think there will be an official comment from the government because Toll did not make an official comment,” Council of Ministers spokesman Ek Tha said yesterday.

 “It is Toll’s responsibility to make this announcement.”

Toll Group spokesman Andrew Ethell said in Melbourne yesterday the company had yet to release an official statement on its Cambodian operations and did not offer a time frame for a potential announcement.

Rehabilitation of the railway was “well behind schedule” and did not comply with Toll’s business plans, Paul Power, a consultant at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) said in March.

Other inside sources had said that frequent delays in the project had frustrated Toll. The suspension on operations, which reportedly will last a year, has perplexed the government.

 Cambodia’s integral role in the Singapore-Kunming rail line made Toll’s 30-year concession a keystone for rail lines that were hoped to link all of peninsular Southeast Asia. “I can’t understand why they would pull out. Cambodia is the centre of this rail network,” Ek Tha said. According to a report prepared for the World Bank in July last year, the lack of rail transport could also stymie rice exports.

“Indeed, several of the leading exporters express the view that exports could stall at 250,000 tons before rail improvements and port improvements are in place two-plus years hence,” the report states. “The sole reliance on containers will preclude reaching the 1-million-tonne export target for 2015 for both logistics and marketing considerations.”

Transporting Cambodian rice costs US$15 per 100 kilometres, three times higher than in Thailand, Sok Muniroth, an agro-business adviser at Agricultural Development International, said yesterday. Rail development was closely linked to the competitiveness of Cambodia’s milled-rice exports, he said.

 “This is still a big issue in Cambodia.” Toll Royal sent letters to officials at the MPWT and Asian Development Bank on March 16, the Post reported at the time.

The company halted operations on Cambodia’s only functional line – a stretch between Phnom Penh and Touk Meas, near Kampot – on March 31. Half of the company’s Cambodian staff were reportedly laid off the same day, although Toll has so far been mum on the exact number of domestic workers that were let go. Read more!

Chea Vichea and Cambodia's shame

Next month, American filmmaker Brad Cox will travel from his base in Bangkok to New York, where he will receive a prestigious Peabody Award for a documentary he made on the assassination of the Cambodian trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.

Two men – Bom Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun – were charged with the murder, but a confession was later retracted amid claims they were tortured. Both men also had alibis and witnesses who said they were somewhere else at the time of the killing.

 Both are widely held to be innocent, but the government insists they got the right people, prompting Cox to produce “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” The movie is banned in Cambodia. Nor is the Cambodian government impressed with the award, claiming Peabody is “a politically motivated” institution, and that Cox’s film is little more than “propaganda.” (The Peabody Awards are the oldest electronic media awards in the world).

But as Cox was having a suit made for the big night, word had filtered through that another prominent environmental activist, Chut Vuthy, had been gunned down after photographing forests in Cambodia’s remote south, which is known for illegal logging.

“He reminds me quite a bit of labor leader Chea Vichea. Both were outspoken, both were willing to stand up for what they believe despite threats and harassment, and both paid the price for their convictions,” Cox said.

“I think there’s a message in this for Cambodians, and that’s to keep your head down and your mouth shut. Most people take this message to heart. There are very few that don’t and that’s what makes guys like Chut Vuthy and Chea Vichea special.

 “They gain the admiration of the Cambodian people, but also the ire of the powers that be. And as much as I hate to say it, I doubt this tragedy will be the last.”

The Chut Vuthy killing is having explosive ramifications, and the parallels with the killing of Chea Vichea are enormous. Chut Vuthy had been prominent in uncovering the secret sell-off of state forests, illegal rosewood harvesting and land grabs in the area where a Chinese dam is being built.

His family, human rights groups and long time observers are troubled by the official explanation: That the military police officer who killed Chut Vuthy, after realizing what he had done, turned an AK-47 on himself and pulled the trigger twice.

 Also present when Chut Vuthy was confronted by the group of military troops demanding his camera were two journalists. Neither saw who shot who, and they were eventually lucky to get out unscathed after the intervention of outside police. But the simple fact that such killings still take place speaks volumes about Cambodia. Sadly, the likes of Brad Cox have no shortage of subjects to work with. Read more!