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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tourists complain of difficulties, negative experiences

VietNamNet Bridge – The number of foreign travelers to bordering nations, Laos and Cambodia, are half those coming to Vietnam. However, international visitors’ complaints reveal that Vietnam has much to learn from its neighbors.

Where has all the hospitality gone?

A traveler nicknamed Eileen 76 on the Lonely Planet tourism forum, wrote: “My friends and I just got back from a five day trip to Hanoi, Vietnam and frankly, it was a trip from hell.

Why? From the moment we stepped on the plane (AirAsia), you get ignorant and stubborn Vietnamese who turned on their mobiles mid-flight! Not one, but several, despite sterm reprimands from the stewardess.

The next day, I had my mobile stolen from my backpack. We were standing on a sidewalk near the lake, trying to figure out which road we were on and where to go when I felt a tug from behind. I turned around and saw a guy standing too close to me. I yelled at him and my first reaction was to quickly check my bag to see whether my digicam and money were missing.

The ‘expletive’ yelled back but I ignored him and walked away when I realized that, thank god, that I still had my money and camera. It was 2 to 3 minutes later that I suddenly remembered my phone, which was kept in another outer compartment and sure enough, it was gone!! And so was the sketchy man!!

To add insult to injury, a shopkeeper was sitting and saw the whole thing, and yet, he did nothing! We were less than one meter away from him. What’s wrong with these people anyway?

Oh, who can forget the horrendous traffic. Normal traffic rules don’t exist here. As far as I know, red means stop, while green means go. But to the Hanoians, both colors meant the same thing – go, go, go. I lost count of the number of times we were nearly mown down by motorbike when a pedestrian light was clearly green and intersecting traffic lights were red.

I know they like to honk at anything and everything that moves, but does that mean it absolves them of all responsibility? I mean, just coz you honked while riding your bike against traffic and nearly crashing into pedestrians, does not necessarily mean you can simply shrug it off with the excuse ‘I used my horn didn’t I’?

I’ve been to Cambodia where the traffic was equally chaotic (in Phnom Penh at least), but at least there was method to the madness. There, you just cross and drivers will automatically avoid you, provided you don’t make any sudden moves or freeze halfway. But try to apply that system in Hanoi, and you’re liable to lose a few limbs, if not your life.”

Regarding service quality, Eileen wrote: “And what’s up with Hanoian’s attitude anyway? They’re rude, crude and uncouth. OK, so they don’t really speak English. Fine. I can accept that. What I can’t stomach is the way they don’t even look you in the eyes when you speak to them.

There was this incident at the Water Puppet Theatre where we wanted 3 tickets for the 8.30pm show. The ticketing girl curtly said "no" but tore three tickets and gave them to us. We asked (politely) what does no mean – is it no, there are no more seats for the 8.30 show or no, you don’t have VND20,000 seats?? (There were two classes of seats - VND20,000 and VND40,000).

She just mumbled No again and eventually figured out the tickets she sold us were VND40,000 for the 9.15pm show. We told her we wanted the cheaper seats and again, got the mumbled no.

During the entire (one-sided) conversation, the girl was scribbling on some papers on her desk! And she didn’t even look up while we were trying to communicate!!! In the end we gave up and just gave her the money. But what happened if a person didn’t want tickets but just some information?

We encountered the same sour-faced and negative attitude among merchants around the Old Quarter market area when we asked them to take some pictures. For example, we went out to sampled biahoi (the austere local beer halls). The restaurant owner’s smile turned sour and her attitude immediately changed for the worst when we asked 2 simple questions: 1. How much (a reasonable enough request); and 2. Can I take a picture?

And let’s not forget the attitude of Hanoians in general. They either poke (if you’re lucky), shove or ram you aside if you happen to walk a little slower or disrupt their route. And what about their inability to queue? What’s worse is they think its their god-given right to cut queue? Is all this really necessary?

And before all you guys take potshots at me, note that I’m an Asian and as polite as possible, with smiles and thank yous (in the local language) to the people I meet whenever I travel. I’ve been to a number of countries, from Asia to Europe and in all my travels, never have I experienced a colder, ruder or more selfish people than in Hanoi. What happened to the reputed Vietnamese hospitality touted by everyone?

Although Vietnam is more developed than its immediate neighbors Cambodia & Laos, it still has a lot to learn from them. They should learn from their regional peers how to be warm and friendly. It’s a smile here or a friendly greeting there that really makes a visitor feel welcome and makes all the difference in the world.”

She concluded: “Thank you very much, Hanoi, for your "wonderful" hospitality. Return to Vietnam??? Not in this lifetime. Give me Cambodia or Laos or even Thailand anyday.”

A tour guide that doesn’t like tourists

An Australian visitor, Harry Ledger, who lived in Vietnam for ten months, shared the same opinion. He wrote about his “hard” trip to Ha Long Bay on BBC. According to Ledger, a tour guide named Nguyen slept and snored the whole way from Hanoi to Ha Long, except for when he led visitors to a souvenir shop, which offered items for double Hanoi prices.

This tour guide sometimes mumbled negatively and Ledger remembers most him saying “I don’t like tourists. But foreign girls are really beautiful and you will see that when you go to Ha Long.”

At noon, Ledger’s group stopped to eat lunch at a restaurant located near a railway station. It was terrible with overdone and cold food like prisoner rations. But “superintendent” Nguyen told Ledger that he hadn’t acquired a taste for Asian food because he was a foreigner.

Ledger wrote that he had lived in Asia for years, at least ten months in Vietnam and that lunch was the worst meal he had eaten here.

“But I and other visitors knew that if we complained, nothing would change. Finally, we arrived at the wharf. I saw hundreds of cranky boats swarming, aimed at the tourists. And a rickety, double-deck, 45-seat boat was ours,” he wrote.

In another article on BBC, Ledger related the desperation of another western visitor, Anna Skodvedt-Sundling, who wished for a quick end to her trans-Vietnam tour.

This Swedish girl, 26, was among the increasing number of independent tourists traveling to Vietnam on a trans-Southeast Asia tour. The girl said she was disappointed. Everything becomes uninspiring and she only wanted to go to Laos quickly because each day she was forced to argue so often with merchants over being cheated out of money. She thinks Thailand is more hospitable and convenient.

Ben Harper, from the UK, said: “When I had my pocket picked in Saigon, police told me to report the theft to tourism police. But tourism policemen couldn’t speak English so I had to return to the local police station. When I got there, they told me it was too late and threw me out. They thought it was funny.”

The above complaints are specifically aimed at tourist managers and Vietnamese locals.

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She Was Supposed to Be Dead

When Kate Webb reported from the battlefields of Cambodia, she kept her chestnut hair cropped G.I.-short and wore jeans and loose shirts to obscure her breasts. This was 1971. Only a handful of women were full-time correspondents in Vietnam, and even fewer women roughed the front lines next door in Cambodia, where military officers believed foreign women were, at best, a distraction. At worst, they were bad luck.

Bad luck was a virus among foreign correspondents in Cambodia. Unlike in Vietnam — where Webb arrived four years earlier at age 23 with a philosophy degree, a one-way ticket from Australia, a Remington typewriter, $200 in cash and a whiskey-and-cigarette voice so soft people leaned in to hear her — there were no reliable phone lines in Cambodia to call your editor in an emergency. There were no American military hospitals to sew up your bullet wounds; no helicopters to evacuate you when things got bloody. By April 1971, several years before the Killing Fields, at least 16 foreign correspondents were missing and 9 were dead.

On April 7, it was Webb’s turn. A 28-year-old bureau chief for United Press International, Webb was covering a clash on Highway 4, south of Phnom Penh. As bullets flew from every direction between North Vietnamese and United States-backed Cambodian troops, Webb and her Cambodian interpreter plunged into a ditch. By the time they eventually belly-crawled their way out, four other refugees from the attack had joined them: a Japanese photojournalist and his Cambodian interpreter along with a Cambodian newspaper cartoonist and a Cambodian photographer.

Throughout that afternoon and night, the six of them crept through the wooded foothills of Cambodia’s Elephant Mountains, holding their breath as they stood within inches of chatting North Vietnamese soldiers. At 11:30 the next morning, tired, thirsty, their clothes and skin shredded by branches, they were crouching in the underbrush when they looked up to see two skinny North Vietnamese soldiers with AK-47’s. The soldiers bound Webb’s arms behind her back with wire, vine and tape and roped all of the captives together in a single line. They confiscated their notebooks, their ID cards, their cameras, their watches. Then they took one thing that Webb held dear: a gold Chinese charm that she wore around her neck. She had clung to that charm in foxholes and always came out alive. Now without it, she felt naked.

After a soldier tossed her and other prisoners’ shoes into the trees, laughing, Webb was forced to walk barefoot on the hot asphalt and through woods littered with bamboo splinters and stones, until another soldier brought Webb a pair of thongs. She winced, knowing they had been stripped from a dead paratrooper.

Following a week of night marches, they arrived at a military camp where Webb slept in a hammock and alternated between stretches of numbing boredom and piercing fear. Why, she wondered, hadn’t they shot her? Did they believe her during the interrogations when she said she wasn’t an American, wasn’t with the C.I.A., wasn’t a soldier? Maybe they would turn her over to the Khmer Rouge, where death — perhaps preceded by starvation — was almost certain. Maybe they planned to march her to the Hanoi Hilton, where United States pilots were being brutally tortured. There are worse things than a single bullet to the head.

As Webb would later write in her memoirs, “On the Other Side: 23 Days With the Viet Cong,” there wasn’t all that much that separated soldier from prisoner. Both subsisted on two meals a day of rice and pork fat in a salted broth and wrestled with hunger, malaria, homesickness. Webb and a soldier she nicknamed Li’l Abner compared their scarred feet (his were worse) and, in French, discussed the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Napoleonic Wars. Three weeks into captivity, Webb had lost 25 pounds — down to 105, on her 5-foot-7-inch frame — and shook with fever from two strains of malaria. She longed to take a bath, to shave her legs, to eat an orange.

She was not, however, dead. On April 21, 1971 — while Webb was sitting in the jungles of Cambodia — this newspaper ran her obituary. Near Highway 4, two Cambodian officers had found a woman they believed was Webb with a bullet in the chest. In accordance with Cambodian military procedures, they cremated the body.

Around that same time, the North Vietnamese were telling Webb about their plans to free her. They figured out a drop-off spot where Cambodian forces might rescue them. And on April 30 — following what Webb would call a “Mad Hatter’s” farewell party with tea, cigarettes, candy and bananas — Webb and the other captives made their final night march, this time with their possessions returned, save for their notebooks and cameras. In the predawn darkness, the soldiers and their former prisoners said fast farewells and Webb and the others walked onto Highway 4 waving a small piece of white cloth. “Miss Webb,” said a Cambodian officer who spotted her on the roadside, “you are supposed to be dead!”

That night Webb stayed at a friend’s empty apartment, where three hot baths washed the filth from her skin and 15 glasses of iced orange juice finally quenched her thirst. A bed with clean sheets awaited her, but Webb chose the balcony; she missed her hammock. She thought about the soldiers she had nicknamed Dad, Gold Tooth and Mr. Lib, who risked their lives to walk her to safety.

Another journalist might have parlayed three weeks of captivity into celebrity status. Webb got back to work instead. For the next three decades, she wrote for wire services from Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines and India, living outside the usual expat neighborhoods, learning the languages, outreporting many of her younger colleagues and using her own modest income to supplement the salaries of in-country wire-service staff.

When she finally retired from front-line reporting at age 58, she returned to Australia, where her family had lived since leaving New Zealand when she was a child. There, she tended her garden and sketched nature scenes. And on some nights, with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, and a rapt audience of friends and family, she told stories about a few of the places she had seen.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Group raises $13,000 for school in Cambodia

CLINTON (AP) — Chris Willemsen and a group of friends are giving an unusual holiday gift this year — a new school to a village in the Cambodian province of Kompong Thom.

They raised the money by selling cookies and lost-andfound clothing, organizing a ride along the Erie Canal and asking for donations.

“I didn’t realize just how generous people are,” said Willemsen, a part-time instructor at Hamilton College.

A weekend holiday concert at the community arts center pushed Willemsen’s group over the $13,000 needed to pay for a school through American Assistance for Cambodia, a nonprofit organization that has built nearly 400 schools in rural Cambodia since 1999.

Ultimately, the group wants to raise $30,000 for improvements.

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Protest march urges quick trial of Khmer Rouge leaders

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — About 600 protesters marched in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on Tuesday to call for speedier trials for the former leaders of Khmer Rouge regime.

A long-delayed, United Nations-backed tribunal is seeking accountability for atrocities during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

The marchers, including students and Buddhist monks, walked 3 miles to the tribunal's office on Phnom Penh's outskirts.

"If the process of the trial continues to be too slow, then the aging former Khmer Rouge leaders will be die before facing trial," said Yin Kean, a 72-year-old nun. "I wish to see these leaders taken to court soon so that they will reveal who is responsible for the deaths of Cambodians under their regime."

The genocide trials are scheduled to begin next year. Five high-ranking former leaders are in detention after being charged with crimes against humanity and other charges.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath welcomed the marchers.

"Their presence here is a very significant step, showing that this court has received support from the entire Cambodian population," he said.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Dreamcatchers: A New Day, new lives

By K.C Johnson

The garbage dump in the Cambodian village of Stung Mean Chey still exists, and the work never ends.

Children spend all day, every day sifting through the squalor and stench, hoping to find enough redeemable material within the trash to bring home $10 per month for their families.

Less than two miles away, close enough to see the dump from their rooftop deck, a new day dawns for 47 children who have escaped their dreary existence thanks to the vision of one man and the generosity of strangers.

'I have a clean place to live, new and clean clothes, enough food and I get education. A very different life from what I had.'

Davy Hem, 14 years old The day begins with a shower and shampoo, a freshly cooked meal and camaraderie throughout the six-bedroom villa. Then comes Khmer school from 7 to 11 a.m., a walk back to their new home for lunch and English school from 1:15 to 4:30 p.m.

After school comes homework and housework, not to mention play time and shared stories of what these children, ages 6 to 21, now can achieve.

'I like to go to school and study both Khmer and English. I like to learn more so I can get a good job.'

Channa Chen, 11 years old One year ago, the Tribune profiled the efforts of Bill Smith, the official photographer for the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks and the United Center. Fascinated by the Far East since his first trip there in 1991, Smith, 57, stumbled across the horrifying conditions at the Phnom Penh Municipal Garbage Dump in February 2002.

With financial help from friends and family, Smith helped empower 37 children with schooling, clothing and food at an annual cost of $600 per child. But, like those children he wanted to help, Smith always had bigger dreams.

'I could see what we were doing was helping them, but it wasn't enough,' Smith says. 'They couldn't take full advantage of their school because they had no place to study. They still were getting sick, drinking bad water, not getting enough food or sleep because they still lived in ramshackle conditions near the dump.

'I envisioned a shelter where kids could live during the week. When you live in homemade shacks and tents, anything's an upgrade. So I envisioned an empty storefront building where we put cots and had electricity, water and meals, and it would be huge.'

Kind of like readers' response.

Hearts opened Shortly after Smith's story ran, contributions started pouring in. People who long had worked in the same building with Smith had no idea what this quiet, humble man had been achieving for years.

'That's where true charity is, when you're doing things for people and nobody knows about it,' says Joe O'Neil, the Bulls' longtime senior director of ticket operations and a close friend of Smith's for 25 years.

Some officials from the three teams Smith works for made substantial contributions, wishing to remain anonymous. More common was the retired grandmother from Iowa, who scribbled a note to the Tribune saying she didn't have much to contribute but wanted to help.

In all, 160 readers each sent in $600 to sponsor a child. Many more offered general donations ranging from $25 to $5,000. In all, Smith said people he had never met contributed more than $150,000.

'Contributions were from all over the country, too, not just local,' Smith says. 'People's heartstrings were touched, and they wanted to help the kids.'

Thus, the work began in earnest for Smith; his wife, Lauren; his sister, Sharon Powell; and O'Neil and his wife, Susan, who were now on the board of a foundation called 'A New Day Cambodia.'

Smith and O'Neil traveled to Cambodia last February to scout out and secure a house they could rent, renovate and furnish. Cary Telander, the daughter of Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander, lived in Cambodia and served as an initial administrator.

They began the Keystone Kops adventure of setting up a home for 47 members of their new extended family.

'We called carpenters who made bunk beds, bought refrigerators and stoves and rice cookers,' Smith recalls. 'We asked around at markets and got good prices, but we bought one small rice cooker that became a running joke. You can't cook for 50 kids like that.

'You don't realize how much space you need in the kitchen to feed 50 kids, even though they're mainly eating rice and pork. We had to feel our way through. But we figured it out.

'Our fridge even has the little thing where you can get purified water out of the door.'

And on July 9, the A New Day Cambodia center opened its doors.

More to do Smith, by now well known when he visits the dump, hand-picked the children with the help of a local motorbike driver he and his wife have known for years, along with three teenage girls he and his wife removed from the dump five years ago. Those helpers speak the language and ...
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

CHALLENGES 2007-2008: Short Shrift for Human Rights in South-east Asia

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Dec 22 (IPS) - For nearly 30 years Cambodians have grappled with a question that no one in the country could answer with certainty: will the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime face justice for the genocide they perpetrated on their own people in the mid-1970s?

The wait may be over in the New Year. Events through 2007 suggested that the special war crimes tribunal established to try the Khmer Rouge leaders for killing nearly 1.7 million men, women and children is expected to open in 2008. Significant in this regard was the arrest this year of five major leaders of that extreme Maoist movement that ruled the country during 1975-79.

The hunger for justice among ordinary Cambodians, who lost relatives to Khmer Rouge brutality, was evident in late November when large crowds gathered at the special court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to hear the bail hearing of Kaing Khek Eav, also known as ‘Duch.’ He headed the notorious Toul Sleng prison, where nearly 14,000 people were tortured before being executed. Duch’s bail application was rejected by the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal.

But such events are rare on South-east Asia’s political terrain. Acts by most of the ten governments in this region during the year confirm that a greater priority is placed on state security than human security. And those who campaigned for human rights and political and civil liberties were often at the receiving end of rough, and at times brutal, measures unleashed by elected and non-elected governments.

‘’Human rights have deteriorated across this region in 2007. Even the few signs of hope have vanished,’’ Anselmo Lee, executive director of Forum-Asia, a Bangkok-based regional right lobby, told IPS. ‘’Governments are still interested in protecting themselves at the expense of the rights of their people.’’

Consequently, activists like Lee are pursuing a wait-and-see approach to judge the move by the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member bloc of the countries in the region, to improve its human rights record through a new regional charter. At a summit in Singapore in November, government leaders backed the new ASEAN constitution’s call to protect and promote human rights and to create a regional human rights body.

‘’The inclusion of human rights in the charter and the plan to create a regional human rights body are positive developments. They offer a window of opportunity,’’ says Lee. ‘’But we have to wait and see how serious this language is and how effective the new human rights mechanism will be.’’

ASEAN’s members include Burma and Thailand, which were under the grip of military juntas, Singapore and Malaysia, which are one-party states where opposition voices are kept in check through harsh laws, and Brunei, which has an absolute monarchy.

The region also accounts for Laos and Vietnam, which have repressive communist regimes; and Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which have varying shades of democracy hampered by a culture of impunity that has enabled abuse of power by some quarters, including the military and officials in government.

Military-ruled Burma, in fact, emerged as a human rights embarrassment for the region, following a harsh crackdown of peaceful street protests in September. The anger in some South-east Asian capitals was palpable as officials, normally known for bland diplomatic statements, opted for sharp language to criticise their regional neighbour.

Vietnam escaped a similar rebuke despite Hanoi unleashing the police on anti-government protestors in Ho Chi Minh City in July. Thousands of uniformed and plainclothes policemen were used to crush a movement led by farmers demanding compensation for lands that were seized by officials for new ‘development’ projects.

Malaysia, one of the region’s more affluent countries, did not take too kindly to rare protests by the country’s ethnic Indian minority in November. Their complaints of economic, educational and cultural discrimination were met by police using batons and tear gas. Kuala Lumpur accused the leaders of this marginalised community of having ‘’terrorist’’ links and arrested them under the country’s harsh Internal Security Act, a British colonial-era relic that enables the authorities to keep detainees behind bars indefinitely.

The Philippines, on the other hand, was the subject of worry among human rights monitors for the spate of extra-judicial killings that continued unabated through the year. In November, a special U.N. investigator released a report that accused the country’s armed forces of killing leftist sympathisers in an effort to wipe out communist insurgents and left-wing activists.

The death toll in 2007 was 68 people, a dramatic drop from the 209 victims who were murdered in 2006 in that archipelago. At the beginning of this year, Filipino human rights groups like Karapatan revealed that over 830 people had fallen victim to extra-judicial killings since 2001, when the current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo began her term in office.

Indonesia, an emerging beacon of democracy after ending a 30-year-long dictatorship in the mid-1990s, had a mixed record in trying to deepen its human rights culture. Jakarta won some praise by human rights groups for progress on two international human rights treaties, the 1996 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The region’s largest country took steps to implement both documents this year.

Yet Indonesian human rights activists castigated their government for dragging its feet on investigating rights violations and for failing to go after perpetrators while marking World Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. ‘’We can still see a lot of impunities; there’s no significant improvement in human rights protection in the country,’’ Soetandyo Wignjosoebroto, a leading human rights activist, was quoted as saying during the occasion in an issue of ‘The Jakarta Post’ newspaper.

And the prospect of the region having a better record in the New Year appears remote because governments are reluctant to broaden the language of human rights, says Sinapan Samydorai, president of Think Centre, a Singapore-based rights lobby group. ‘’There is very little human rights education in the South-east Asian schooling system.’’

‘’It is a way of preventing people to know what their rights are,’’ he added, during a telephone interview from the city-state. ‘’And I don’t mean only political rights, but labour rights, economic rights and the rights to information.’’
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cambodian ambassador criticizes UN envoy

By EDITH M. LEDERER -- Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) Cambodia's U.N. ambassador complained to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the U.N. human rights investigator who just visited the country insulted the Khmer government and displayed "unacceptable" arrogance.

In a letter to Ban obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Ambassador Kosal Sea said the government is now considering whether the U.N. special envoy for human rights in Cambodia, Yash Ghai, is "still necessary," as the 1991 Paris peace agreement between opposing factions stipulates.

During a Dec. 1-10 visit to Cambodia, Ghai heaped criticism on the government for alleged rights violations and called the judiciary "a perversity." He predicted that Cambodians eventually were "going to rise" against the government.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to never meet Ghai, accusing him of focusing only on the negative and ignoring the government's efforts to address human rights concerns. Hun Sen shunned the Kenyan constitutional lawyer during his recent trip.

International human rights groups on Tuesday backed Ghai and urged the government to engage with him. The groups include Human Rights Watch, the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture.

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Cambodian PM says ex-Khmer Rouge officials have comforts in detention

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - A U.N.-backed tribunal is holding former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan in a comfortable room that bears no resemblance to the notorious torture cells his regime operated, Cambodia's prime minister said Thursday.

Khieu Samphan, 76, has been detained at the tribunal in the capital Phnom Penh since his arrest Nov. 19. The genocide trials are scheduled to begin next year, and Khieu Samphan is one of five high-ranking former Khmer Rouge members detained.

«He was offered a place with good conditions but he still complains about the difficulties of staying there,» Prime Minister Hun Sen said, noting the facility was nothing like the murderous Khmer Rouge's infamous torture center, Tuol Sleng.

«He ordered people jailed at Tuol Sleng for interrogation and torture, but he never discusses the difficulties of those people,» Hun Sen said.

Khieu Samphan's lawyer had complained the room was too small, according to tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath.

Detention cells at the tribunal have fans, beds with mattresses, radio, television, a window and a private toilet, he said.

The long-delayed tribunal is seeking accountability for atrocities during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

Khieu Samphan was arrested at a Phnom Penh hospital after undergoing treatment for a stroke. He has been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

He also faces charges related to his support of the Khmer Rouge policy of committing «murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhumane acts.

Four other surviving Khmer Rouge officials are in custody at the tribunal, including Kaing Guek Eav _ alias Duch _ who ran Tuol Sleng, Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge's ex-foreign minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith, its social affairs minister. All three were charged with crimes against humanity; Ieng Sary was also charged with war crimes.

Former Khmer Rouge ideologist Nuon Chea is also awaiting trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cambodian cops turn to hair clippers

Phnom Penh - Frustrated Cambodian police have resorted to hitting fashion-conscious party drug users where it hurts most to curb their criminal habits - by ruining their expensive hairdos.

Deputy Military Police Chief of the Thai border province of Banteay Meanchey, Ou Borin, said his men had swapped weapons for clippers, shaving unsightly shapes into repeat offenders' coiffures.

"They have been warned about drugs but they still take them, so we have begun shaving a cross across their heads and a circle just above their eyebrows to remind them," he said by telephone.

"We have 100 juveniles and young people here just today awaiting charges. We don't have the food or the space, and afterwards they just do it again and come back, so we are trying a different method."

Several local newspapers featured a picture of 10 newly clipped young and once-hip offenders aged between 18 and 23 Wednesday.

In increasingly affluent Cambodia, better-off youth spend vast amounts of their income on designer clothes and elaborate haircuts and rinses, imitating pop music idols of Thailand and Korea.

"The police ask them to go home or educate them, but they just insult us. We can't do anything with them because they never listen. We hope this will get a message to them," Borin said. - Sapa-dpa .
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

International human rights groups back UN envoy's criticism of Cambodian government

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: International human rights groups voiced support Tuesday for a U.N. envoy's criticism of Cambodia's human rights situation, which has drawn an angry response from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The groups urged Phnom Penh to engage in dialogue with Yash Ghai, the U.N.'s special envoy for human rights in Cambodia, who was shunned by Hun Sen during a 10-day visit earlier this month.

During his visit, Ghai heaped criticism on the government for alleged rights violations and called the judiciary "a perversity." He predicted that Cambodians were eventually "going to rise" against the government.

"All of his findings have been repeatedly raised in the past by local and international rights groups, U.N. agencies and bilateral and multilateral donors," Sara Colm, senior researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The statement was also signed by the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture.

During his visit, Ghai met with many poor Cambodians who say they have been forced from their land by commercial developers.

"There's no denying the facts. Expropriation of the land of Cambodia's poor is reaching a disastrous level, the courts are politicized and corrupt, and impunity for human rights violators remains the norm," said Basil Fernando, executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

Hun Sen has vowed to never meet Ghai, accusing him of focusing only on the negative and ignoring the government's efforts to address human rights concerns.

Hun Sen's attacks on Ghai were "outrageous" and showed "contempt" for the United Nations, said Anselmo Lee, executive director of the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

The International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture are based in Paris and Geneva respectively.
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Monday, December 17, 2007

Cambodia Buddhist Monks, Police Clash

Dozens of Buddhist monks kicked, punched and hurled bottles at baton-wielding police in Cambodia's capital Monday at a demonstration to demand religious freedom for monks in neighboring Vietnam.

The clashes erupted as about 40 monks approached the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh to submit a petition against authorities' alleged mistreatment of Buddhist monks in the communist country.

The protesters accused Vietnamese authorities of arresting and defrocking several ethnic Cambodian monks over the past few months.

Authorities let only a few state-sponsored religious organizations operate in Vietnam, a situation that has led to altercations there with some groups including Buddhists.

A large part of southern Vietnam, known in Cambodia as Kampuchea Krom, used to be part of Cambodia's Khmer empire centuries ago. Many ethnic Cambodians still live there.

In the Phnom Penh protest, about 100 riot police used batons to beat back the monks, blocking them from marching near the embassy.

The monks responded by punching the police and throwing water-filled plastic bottles at them. One monk was seen kicking a police officer in the groin.

Touch Naroth, the Phnom Penh police chief, said six policemen were slightly injured.

"They tried to storm the embassy, and police had the duty to protect the embassy," he said.

The police bruised seven monks on their heads or bodies, said Chan Saveth, an investigator with the nonprofit Cambodian human rights group Adhoc. He accused police of violence against the monks, who are widely revered in Cambodia.

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Tourism boom at Cambodia's 'Killing Fields'

The number of foreigners visiting Cambodia's "Killing Fields" has more than doubled from last year due to growing public interest in the Khmer Rouge tribunal, an official said Friday.

Up to 500 foreign tourists are visiting the grim execution sites on an average day, compared with 200-300 per day in 2006, said Ros Sophearavy, deputy director of a private company running the fields.

"The increase could be related to the arrest of Khmer Rouge leaders," she said.

"People hear about the Khmer Rouge tribunal and that must have prompted tourists to visit the Killing Fields," said Ros Sophearavy.

Visitors will see a 17-story stupa, or tower, that houses some 9,000 skulls of people killed during the the Khmer Rouge's brutal 1975-79 rule in Choeung Ek, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of Phnom Penh.

Many people were executed in Choeung Ek and buried in pits by the ultra-communist regime.

Up to two million people were executed, or died of starvation and overwork as the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, one year after Cambodia first sought the United Nation's help in setting up a genocide tribunal to try regime leaders.

Established in July 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the joint Cambodian-UN tribunal seeks to prosecute crimes committed by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

So far five top Khmer Rouge leaders, including the regime's former foreign minister Ieng Sary, have been detained to face charges for crimes committed by the regime.


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Push for single visa across South-East Asia

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to allow foreign tourists to enter on a single visa.

"This means a tourist can get a visa either for Thailand or Cambodia and can visit the two nations," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said after signing the agreement with visiting Thai counterpart Nitya Pibulsonggram.

The deal was the first of a hoped for series also involving Burma, Laos and Vietnam, he said.

"We want to see the five countries become one tourist destination," Hor Namhong said.

Thailand is aiming to have 15 million foreign tourists this year while Cambodia had 1.7 million last year, most of whom visited the ancient Angkor temples.

Earlier this month, Air Finland began the first commercial direct flight between Europe and Cambodia, where the tourism industry is growing 25 per cent per year.


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Aussie-linked people-smuggler gets two years' jail

By Cath Hart

A NOTORIOUS people-smuggler linked to the arrival of 83 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in international waters off Australia earlier this year has been sentenced to two years in jail by an Indonesian court.

Veteran people-smuggler Abraham Lauhenapessy, known as Captain Bram, was arrested inJune on people-smuggling charges and was last week handed a two-year jail term and fined 25 million rupiah ($3110).

His arrest, on charges of hiding, protecting, harbouring or providing livelihood to people known to have entered Indonesia illegally, was hailed at the time as a vital step in international efforts to disrupt people-smuggling syndicates in the region.

Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews described Bram's arrest as "the most significant breakthrough in terms of dealing with people-smuggling for years".

The successful sting to bring down the prominent people-trafficker followed a long-term joint operation by the Indonesian police and the Australian Federal Police.

The Howard government had confirmed that Bram had been linked to the arrival of 83 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in international waters off Australia's west coast in June.

The Sri Lankans were transferred to Christmas Island and then to Nauru, where 74 have been found to be refugees but have not been resettled.

Seven of the remaining Sri Lankans being held on Nauru are facing criminal charges over the rape and sexual assault of a local woman.

Bram is believed to have had a long association with people-smuggling rackets in the region and had successfully evaded authorities for many years.

The Australian Federal Police involved in the fight against people-smugglers are believed to have classified Bram as a priority target for at least five years.

Authorities came close to shutting down the operations of Bram in July 2001 during a sting operation in Cambodia, when he and Pakistani people-smuggler Hasan Ayoub were arrested kilometres from the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville.

Although Ayoub was successfully charged and sentenced to 12 years' jail, Bram managed to slip through the net - reportedly after intense lobbying by the Indonesian embassy in Phnom Penh.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tourism boom in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH - The number of foreigners visiting Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” has more than doubled from last year due to growing public interest in the Khmer Rouge tribunal, an official said.

Up to 500 foreign tourists are visiting the grim execution sites on an average day, compared with 200-300 per day in 2006, said Ros Sophearavy, deputy director of a private company running the fields.

“The increase could be related to the arrest of Khmer Rouge leaders,” she told AFP.

“People hear about the Khmer Rouge tribunal and that must have prompted tourists to visit the Killing Fields,” said Ros Sophearavy.

Visitors will see a 17-story stupa, or tower, that houses some 9,000 skulls of people killed during the the Khmer Rouge’s brutal 1975-79 rule in Choeung Ek, some 15 kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh.

Many people were executed in Choeung Ek and buried in pits by the ultra-communist regime.

Up to two million people were executed, or died of starvation and overwork as the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia’s cities, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, one year after Cambodia first sought the United Nation’s help in setting up a genocide tribunal to try regime leaders.

Established in July 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the joint Cambodian-UN tribunal seeks to prosecute crimes committed by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

So far five top Khmer Rouge leaders, including the regime’s former foreign minister Ieng Sary, have been detained to face charges for crimes committed by the regime.
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Cuba, Camboya Boost Bilateral Coop

Phnom Penh, Dec 16 (Prensa Latina) Cuba and Cambodia gave a new step in favor of their cooperation with the signing of several agreements in the area of health, biotechnology, education and culture, and agriculture.

At the closure of the Third Session of the Intergovermental Commission for the Economic and Science-technique Collaboration, both parts ended talks aimed at strengthening joint actions to progress in development.

The Caribbean isle represented by First Vice Minister of the Minister for Foreign Investment and Collaboration Ramon Ripoll Diaz and Salvador Cabeiro Quintana, an official of the Ministry.

Cuban ambassador to Cambodia Gilda Lopez Armenteros also chaired talks, accompanied by Odalys Lopez Quintana, first Secretary of that diplomatic headquarters.

Prince Sisowath Chivannariddh, Secretary of State for Foreign Relations and International Collaboration, led the delegation of the Asian country.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Man or monster?

By Putsata Reang

The appearance of the first former Khmer Rouge leader in a special court established in Cambodia to bring that movement's surviving leaders to justice provoked a question on which the tribunal's integrity will depend: should an accused mass murderer be released pending his trial?

Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as "Duch", presided over the deaths of more than 14,000 people at S-21, a former Phnom Penh high school turned into a torture centre. He is one of five former senior Khmer Rouge leaders who will be made to answer for their roles during Pol Pot's genocide, in which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians perished. Until recently, Duch was the only one imprisoned, after being exposed in 1999.

The court - with its improbable blend of Cambodian and foreign judges and attorneys as well as laws - is meant to be a model for judicial reform and independent justice in a country where impunity has long been the rule.

The five red-robed judges who preside over the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (the official name) are the final arbiters of Duch's detention, but the question they are now considering belongs as much to the people of Cambodia as it does to the court. Should mass murderers be afforded the same rights as everyone else?

One of my aunts has a strong opinion on the matter. Khmer Rouge soldiers beat her father to death, and she remembers being shot at for sport by communist cadres as she and dozens of other peasants scuttled up a mountainside. She now lives one block from S-21. "Human rights are for humans," she said emphatically when I asked her about Duch's case. "He is a monster."

I once believed that, too. When I first visited Duch's house of horrors in 1990, I was 15 and full of wonder about the country where I was born but had never lived. My family escaped the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975, the day they claimed victory. When my mother and I journeyed home to reunite with relatives who had survived the genocide, S-21 (also known as Tuol Sleng) was among our first stops.

By then, the torture facility had been turned into a museum. I remember feeling claustrophobic as I walked down its halls and into classrooms turned into crude cellblocks. The air was stale but heavy with the stench of death in interrogation chambers barren save for a single bed frame, shackles and a chair. Flecks of dried blood peeled up from the floor. This was a place where fingernails of countless victims were ripped out, where others were strung upside down and dunked in barrels of water, where many were brutalised with metal prongs and batons. This was a place of utter brokenness. This was Duch's place.

Mostly, I remember the hundreds of black and white mug shots of prisoners and victims that covered every inch of the walls - a ghastly montage of human suffering that haunts me to this day. I couldn't help but think: this was somebody's daughter, somebody's son. This was somebody's mother or sister or brother.

Back then, I thought: What monster could do such things?

Now, that monster was sitting in a courtroom, looking scared and meek as prosecutors catalogued his alleged war crimes. Sitting in the packed auditorium where snatches of Duch's face flash by on a movie screen, I'm struck by what I see: a face that belongs to someone. This alleged perpetrator of unspeakable misdeeds is, like his victims, someone's son, someone's brother, someone's father.

This might have been only a fleeting thought had I not seen Duch's family members, who attended the hearings. Hang Seav Heang, 28, described the defendant as a gentle man, a good father. One of his sisters said he was a caring, protective brother, and she would always love him.

Outside the courtroom and in the community, most of the Khmers I talked to were, like my aunt, quick to categorise Duch as something other than human. Duch must have thought much the same thing about his victims when he ordered them to their deaths. When we start to see each other as less than human, we respond with inhuman acts.

It is this narrow, black-and-white view of humanity that has perpetuated a cycle of violence in Cambodia, where raging mobs beat to death robbery suspects and young mistresses suffer acid attacks by jealous wives. To say that Duch is a monster who does not deserve rights ignores the grey area between good and evil, between man and monster, where anything is possible. This trial is about that grey area, about that place in us all where morality decays and evil takes root and grows, the way mould prevails given the right conditions. Each of us carries this potential for rot.

There is no dispute that Duch violated the rights of thousands of Khmers. But if the basic premise of these trials is to uphold human rights, then we are obliged to extend that same principle to Duch. What does it say to the country and the world if a court convened to mete out justice flouts the law? Isn't lawlessness the plague we are finally trying to eradicate in Cambodia?

The judges have offered no indication when they will make a decision. And no one would blame them for taking their time to consider their options. This is, after all, the court's first test of fairness before the trials of Duch and four of Pol Pot's other henchmen begin next year. We all want justice, but that justice should not come at the cost of our humanity.

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Cambodia & UN Launch Three-Year Meal Programme

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has announced a new, three-year programme to provide meals to 1.8 million vulnerable Cambodians, including schoolchildren, tuberculosis patients and people affected by HIV/AIDS.

At a ceremony yesterday in the capital, Phnom Penh, WFP and the Cambodian Government launched the $64 million feeding programme which, starting next year, will target the neediest and least developed regions of the South-East Asian country.

WFP Country Director Thomas Keusters called on international donors to step up their support of its programmes in Cambodia, warning that it was important to avoid a repeat of the funding crisis earlier this year that threatened to interrupt the supply of emergency food relief.

"Food assistance has an immediate impact on beneficiaries and it is often also the catalyst that will allow other programmes to be successful," Mr. Keusters said.

"What good is it to build more schools and train more teachers if the children cannot take advantage of the improved facilities because they come to school hungry? What is the benefit of HIV/AIDS/TB medical support if the people cannot afford to buy the food that is needed for the medicine to be effective?"

WFP has been operating in Cambodia since 1979, when it started supporting refugees and returnees, mainly along the Cambodian-Thai border.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Filipino fighters forfeit gold medal bouts in SEA Games protest

It is Thailand, one of the Asian Countries. It is the same game without shame, Thailand has always been playing the fake games. Thailand win win win for fake champions's shame. Gold medals?

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (AP): Filipino boxers forfeited six gold medal bouts at the Southeast Asian Games on Thursday in a protest against judging, and threatened not to compete in future editions of the event.

The forfeits in the men's finals came after judges for the women's finals on Wednesday awarded wins to host Thailand in all five bouts against Filipino opponents that were decided on points.

"We just wanted to send a message that some things have to be changed,'' said Manny Lopez, president of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines. "Our boys lost their courage and their energy to fight after our country was dishonored in the women's finals. Our boys were commiserating with their women teammates.

You shouldn't do that to women especially. The officiating was very biased, and my opinion will be concurred by all the other countries.''

Monico Puentevella, the head of the Philippines team at these SEA Games, said team officials met Wednesday night to decide how to protest the judging, and that it was left up to each individual boxer whether to forfeit.

"It's their call, but whatever their decision may be, we will fully support them,'' Puentevella said in a statement released to media. "We understand their situation, sympathize with them and believe they will do whatever is right.''

The vocal Thai crowd was puzzled when Godfrey Castro in the flyweight final threw up his hands at the opening bell and forfeited. When Junel Catancio did the same in the bantamweight final in the next scheduled bout, the crowd began to boo and abuse the visiting fighters.

Thereafter, the Filipinos chose to fight for short stints before retiring. Junie Tizon in the middleweight final and Maximino Tabangcora in the light heavyweight final both retired at the end of the first of four scheduled rounds. Orlando Tacuyan Jr. retired at the end of the second in the featherweights, and in the lightweight final Joegin Ladon quit during the first round.

Larry Semillano in the super lightweight final was the only Filipino fighter to contest his full bout, losing on points to 2004 Olympic gold medalist Manus Boonjumnong.

The judges at the Southeast Asian Games were from neutral countries, but Lopez said they could be influenced.

"Who invites these so-called neutral judges? The hosts. Who pays their airfare? The hosts. Who pays for their accommodation? The hosts,'' Lopez said. Thursday's forfeits further sullied the reputation of the Southeast Asian Games, where medal tallies heavily favor host nations, and threatened the future of boxing at the event.

"It's bad at the Southeast Asian level,'' Lopez said . "The way things are going, I am willing not to present my boys in the Southeast Asian Games anymore. We can meet Thailand in other events which are more reliable, like the Asian Games.

"We will do a lot of hard thinking about what will happen in the future.'' Unlike professional boxing where judges make qualitative decisions on which fighter won each round, amateur boxing is judged by computerized scoring of clear legal blows landed.

Each of the five judges has a red and a blue button which they press accordingly for each clear scoring blow they see. Three out of the five judges must press the button for the same boxer within one second in order for the point to be awarded.

The Filipino boxers were underdogs in all of Thursday's bouts, with their strong Thai opponents including Boonjumong, 2007 world championship silver medalist Non Boonjumnong, 2004 Olympic silver medalist Petchkoom Worapoj and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Suriya Prasathinphimai.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Angkor's legend rises

By Suwicha Chanitnun

Cambodia's Culture and Fine Arts Department continues to breathe new life into ancient Angkor, this time with a magnificent light-sound-and-dance show that tells the story of the Hindu faith that flourished in the area when this was the capital of the entire region.

"The Legend of Angkor Wat: When History Comes to Life" is being staged in the midst of the venerable sanctuary through Jan 20.

A thousand seats arranged on a gentle gradient face the stage with no less than the five famed towers of Angkor Wat itself as the backdrop.

Built in the 12th century, the vast temple complex was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The story of the Angkor civilisation's rise and fall had been a legend among traders and explorers for a millennium until French naturalist Alexandre Henri Mouhot located the ruins in the jungle in the mid-19th century.

He was astonished to find enormous bas-relief sculptures of sandstone apsara dancers among the foliage and explored further. Gradually the scale of the lost treasure revealed itself once more.

This is the setting, once night falls, where beams of colourful light wash over the mediaeval fortress in a 50-minute, six-act performance that takes spectators time travelling back to the days of King Suryavarman II.

Seeing Angkor by night is special enough, but watching dancers emerge gracefully from the ornate stone galleries seems as though the apsaras of old have sprung back to life.

There are 150 performers in the show, all Cambodians. Most are professionals from Phnom Penh, and some are models and well-known stars of film and television, such as Tep Rindaro and Sim Solika.

The performance is in English, with Japanese and Khmer subtitles screened at either side of the stage. Images are projected on a curtain of water as well.

Every scene, replete with special effects, is so outstanding that at times you might be distracted from the historical narrative. Following the subtitles does indeed rob your attention from significant action onstage, so it's best to be content with the printed synopsis and focus on the performance. In any event, nothing is too complicated to understand.

The evening makes Angkor so much more impressive, and some of the lighting for the show is set within the temple compound itself.

The director of the show, Peung Chiang of the Department of Culture and Fine Arts, points out that multimedia technology - especially when mingled with traditional performance - makes the ancient empire more interesting for a general audience.

"Angkor Wat is like a diamond," he says. "When it's carried or covered with velvet, it's more precious and worthy. And this performance is like a dish of food. It's a combination of various ingredients ready to serve."
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Japan promises $100 mln of concession loan for Cambodia to reduce poverty

The Japanese government has pledged to provide 100 million U.S. dollars of concession loan each year for Cambodia to facilitate its poverty reduction efforts, said Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday.

The loan will be increased by one third on annual basis and the interest rate will keep as low as 0.01 percent, he told the construction ceremony of counter-flood facilities on the Tonle SapRiver bank in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia will pay it back in 40 years, he said, without giving other technical details of the loan.

"I urge the Cambodian government officials and the Japanese experts here to quickly take the loan to help and develop the poverty reduction projects," he added.

The loan deal was reached by both parties while Hun Sen paid his recent visit to Singapore to attend the ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asia Nations) meetings.

International institutions have put the poverty rate of the kingdom at 35 percent.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cambodia lashes out at UN envoy, accuses him of trying to incite violence

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia denounced a U.N. envoy Tuesday as unfit to represent the world body and accused him of trying to incite unrest by predicting that the country would rise up against the government to protest human rights violations.

Yash Ghai, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy for human rights in Cambodia, wrapped up a 10-day visit Monday with a scathing attack against the government and judiciary. He said many Cambodians lived in constant fear of having their land stolen by developers and had no recourse because of a corrupt judiciary.

Ghai accused the government of fueling "development that impoverishes people, deprives them of their resources, adds further to marginalization (and) increases enormously the number of people who can barely make a living."

"Sooner or later, people are going to rise," Ghai said, adding, "there's a limit to how far you can use coercion as a method of development."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith called Ghai's words an "incitement for people to revolt."

He said Ghai was unfit to be a U.N. envoy and had come to Cambodia to "curse" the government.

"Has he ever offered any ways to solve problems? And does he ever care to learn about the problems the government has solved?" Khieu Kanharith said.

Ghai, a persistent critic of the rights situation in Cambodia, was shunned by the government during his visit.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, police Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, also lashed out at Ghai, saying that like his predecessors he was using his mandate to badmouth the government.

"He has no competence to solve human rights problems in Cambodia," Khieu Sopheak said.

Land rights disputes have increased in recent years in Cambodia, usually pitting poor farmers against wealthy developers.

Ghai said he met several victims of land disputes and housing evictions who have little faith in the courts to address their problems.

"Fear of the state, fear of political and economic saboteurs, fear of greedy individuals and corporations, fear of the police and the courts describes the plight of numerous communities and families in Cambodia," he said.

"The courts are not independent, they're corrupt, and so people don't get justice from the courts," Ghai told a news conference late Monday.

Cambodia was "not a rule-of-law state" and its judiciary was "a perversity," he said.

He urged foreign aid donors, who give Cambodia hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in assistance each year, to use their economic clout to pressure the government to pay more respect to human rights.

Ghai said he plans to present a detailed report on Cambodia to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

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Cambodia plans hunting safaris for VIP tourists

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia is considering laying on hunting safaris for well-heeled foreign tourists in its remote jungle-clad northeast, to the consternation of green groups who say it could be a recipe for disaster.

Officials said on Tuesday a Spanish firm called Nsok Safaris had already drawn up plans for a five-star jungle camp to house hunters after trophies on a list of 30 mammals, birds and reptiles in a 100,000-hectare (250,000-acre) forest reserve.

The area, in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces, is home to several indigenous hill-tribes whose first main contact with the outside world was during the Vietnam War when their territory was crossed by the myriad paths of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Dany Chheang, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry's Wildlife Protection Office, said allowing foreigners to pay to shoot game was far better for conservation than having poachers take it illegally.

"Illegal hunters are burning dollars every day," he told Reuters. "We have not explored all the potential of our natural resources. Now is the time to do so."

"The money we net will be invested in preserving the animals and forest. It is better for sustainable development than letting local hunters deal with cheap black markets."

He did not say what the 30 approved species were. The forest area is thought to be one of southeast Asia's last wildernesses and is home to wild elephants and tigers.

Environvmental group WWF, which has been promoting wildlife conservation in war-scarred Cambodia since 1998, said it was concerned about the plan, which has been in the pipeline for two years but which has remained shrouded in secrecy.

WWF's Cambodia program manager, Bas van Helvoort, said little was known about animal population numbers in the two provinces, and so allowing them to be hunted could be disastrous.

"Putting species up to be hunted is not going to contribute to making them safe," van Helvoort said. "This has been done in Africa but it is very carefully selected and very controlled."

So far, Phnom Penh -- which is routinely accused of allowing rampant illegal logging -- appears oblivious to the concerns.

"These are our natural resources. We do not need permission from wildlife conservation experts to run our business," Dany Chheang said.

The Finance Ministry was still working with agriculture officials on the finer points of the plan, such as trophies and fees, he added.

Madrid-based Nsok Safari's Web site advertises hunting expeditions in Cameroon and Tanzania.

(Editing by Ed Cropley and Roger Crabb)
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Cambodian gov't dismisses comments of UN Human Rights Envoy

The Cambodian government has blasted UN Rights Envoy Yash Ghai's recent criticism of the country's judicial system and land rights management, calling him tourist rather than envoy, local media said on Wednesday.

Yash Ghai on Monday attended the ceremony in Phnom Penh to mark the International Human Rights Day and released a statement claiming that Cambodian citizens live in fear of land grabbing, repression and a court system which offers scant hope of justice, with international donors seemingly turning a blind-eye.

However, at a specially convened government press conference on Tuesday, Ouch Borith, secretary of state for the Foreign Ministry, said that it was Ghai himself that was sightless, reported Cambodian-language newspaper the Moneaksekar Khmer.

"Anyone who claims Cambodia is a country without laws must be blind. This is not a dictatorship," said Borith at the press conference, adding that Ghai is simply a tourist.

Claiming that Ghai's comments were unacceptable, he said government leaders could not meet with Ghai during his ten-day visit as they were busy with working to develop the country, promote economic growth and eliminate poverty for the people.

Meanwhile, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters that Ghai's words were an incitement for the people to revolt, adding that Ghai isn't fit to be a UN envoy.

"Has he ever offered any ways to solve problems? And does he ever care to learn about the problems the government has solved?" hieu Kanharith said.

In addition, Ministry of the Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak described Ghai as a long-term tourist, who wants to make people oppose the government, reported English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily.

Source: Xinhua

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Monday, December 10, 2007

UN envoy, US ambassador lead rare human rights march in Cambodia

The UN's special envoy for human rights and the US ambassador to Cambodia on Monday led a rare march to demand social justice reforms in the impoverished kingdom.

UN rights representative Yash Ghai and US ambassador Joseph Mussomeli joined 500 local rights activists, who carried banners calling for an end to corruption.

"The lesson therefore is that the struggle for human rights and human dignity is unending," Ghai, who arrived here last week, told a rally in Phnom Penh to mark international Human Rights Day.

"The ultimate custodians of human rights and social justice must be the people themselves, just as they must be the custodians of political and economic sovereignty," he added.

Ghai, a Kenyan lawyer who has clashed repeatedly with the government over his blunt appraisals of Cambodia's rights record, said earlier this year that impunity for human rights violations threatened the rule of law there.

He also wrote a report that accused the government of systematically abusing human rights to keep a grip on power.

Relations between the government and UN rights envoys have historically been poor, with Prime Minister Hun Sen calling Ghai and his predecessor Peter Leuprecht "stupid". He has also described Ghai as "rude" and a "god without virtue".

Mussomeli called Ghai a "sincere human rights advocate", but said he had met no one from the government during his current visit.

Among the top human rights concerns in Cambodia is land grabbing, which Ghai and previous envoys have warned could lead to mass unrest as more Cambodians become destitute.

Land seizures by government and military officials as well as businesses have left thousands of families homeless.

Rampant corruption and a lack of credible land records -- most of which were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s -- have made land disputes increasingly common in Cambodia.

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UN says Cambodian courts fail to give justice

The United Nations has criticised Cambodia for failing to protect the rights of the poor, saying land is being routinely seized by large businesses with government connections.

UN rights representative Yash Ghai spoke to reporters at the end of a 10-day visit, during which he said no Cambodian government officials were willing to meet him.

Mr Ghai said the failure of the courts was especially pronounced in cases of land grabbing, and that victims of evictions had little faith the courts would provide them with justice.

He said many Cambodians live in constant fear of being mistreated by authorities.

The AFP newsagency says government officials could not be reached for immediate comment, but Prime Minister Hun Sen has in the past dismissed Mr Ghai and his assessments as "stupid."

Land seizures by government and military officials as well as businesses have left thousands of families homeless in Cambodia.

Rampant corruption and a lack of credible land records -- most of which were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s -- have made land disputes increasingly common in Cambodia.
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UN rights envoy lashes out at Cambodian government

The UN special envoy for human rights in Cambodia Monday chastised the Cambodian government for its rights record at a rally here organised to mark the International Human Rights Day.

Yash Ghai, accompanied by members of 15 local human rights groups, told the gathering that fear still governed Cambodia.

'Fear - fear of the state, fear of political and economic saboteurs, fear of greedy individuals and corporations, fear of the police and the courts - describes the plight of numerous communities and families in Cambodia as they do in many other parts of the world,' he said in a speech.

'The lesson, therefore, is that the struggle for human rights and human dignity is unending as it became so sharply and painfully obvious to me as I met the embattled communities in Dey Krahorm and the Group 78 villages,' he added, referring to two communities where residents are involved in bitter land disputes and are faced with evictions.

The government refused to cooperate with Yash Ghai soon after his 2005 appointment, and have claimed he refuses to acknowledge its progress on human rights in recent years.

Government representatives have refused to see him, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has said on state radio that he should return to his native Kenya and fix the problems there before 'coming to lecture us in Cambodia.'

Despite predictions in local media that the crowd at the rally might top 20,000 people, unofficial estimates by participants put figures at about 4,000, and the police said 1,000 people at the most attended.

Yash Ghai was scheduled to give a press conference later Monday to end his current 10-day visit.
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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Unique Boutique to benefit orphans


Preparations are underway for this year's Unique Boutique set for 1-8 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at the home of Terry and Marvel Kellogg, 199 San Ildefonso Road.

All of the exotic and unusual gift items available for purchase are made by Cambodians in Southeast Asia and some come from the sewing project at the orphanage, which is operated by the Kelloggs’ organization, Cambodia’s Hope.

Items to be on sale next week include handwoven silk scarves, household d├ęcor, clothing, handbags, ornaments, vintage basketry, antiques, fabulous artifacts and treasures, and jewelry ranging from glass bead earrings to a 42-inch necklace with a 34-karat sapphire set in 18-karat white gold.

Prices begin at $4. This year the Kelloggs also will have a “Chic Boutique Flea Market” with donated items such as ceramics, glassware, books and leather jackets.

The Kelloggs ensure 100 percent of the proceeds from their annual fundraiser go to the children of Cambodia's Hope as all administrative, fundraising and travel expenses are donated by the founders and friends. Donations are tax-deductible.

Cambodia’s Hope was founded by the Kelloggs and their friends in 2003, as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to support needy children in Cambodia.

The community has supported the organization each year since its inception through purchases at the annual Unique Boutique as well as through direct donations.

This support has allowed Cambodia’s Hope to expand each year; enhancing the care and education provided to children of victims of AIDs, land mine atrocities and war traumas.

“Our guiding principle is, ‘The future of the world does not lie in the hands of children – it lies in the hands that hold the hands of children,’” Marvel said. “Our calling is as privileged people, Cambodia’s Hope intends to lead with our heads as well as our hearts to generate opportunities for less-fortunate children in Cambodia. We will create a nurturing environment for children to reach their highest human potential through education, recreation and health.

“We will support children to become self-sustaining future business, academic and agricultural leaders of Cambodia to help fill the intellectual and cultural void caused by the human decimation of recent decades."

Terry explained that Cambodia's Hope supports needy children, young adults and families living in Cambodia.

The primary mission is to provide survival support for orphans in Cambodia as well as opportunities for education and occupational training.

“It’s the basic support system for the Palm Tree Orphanage in Phnom Penh, a facility with a 95-child capacity focusing on education and creating a family base for homeless children,” he said.

He continued, “Our goal is for these children to learn, play and create; forging a developmental path toward leadership roles in their country. Education is a priority. At this time all eligible children attend Cambodian School in addition to classes at the orphanages.

“Recreation, culture and the arts are included in the curriculum as well as vocational training provided to enhance career and job placement. The school also supports an intensive dance and cultural program where the children learn classic Cambodian dance and perform for guests as well as travel to competitions.”

The Kelloggs said they are currently supporting a second orphanage in a small village in Kam Pong Speu Province with 37 children, a seamstress training program for the village women as well as seven preschool programs providing services for more than 200 children throughout the province.

“We hope to raise enough money this year for a dormitory and school for this project,” Terry said. The ambition, he added, “is to help orphanages as well as individuals to become self-supporting in their projects and lives.”

“The charitable organization receives support from donors around the globe,” Marvel said. “In the world of philanthropic endeavors, Cambodia's Hope stands out as having 100 percent of every donation go directly to the needs of the children and projects to support the children.”

The community of Los Alamos, through past Unique Boutique fundraisers has built a medical clinic, helped buy a farm and this year the funds will go to build a school in an out lying village.

“The good news is a little goes a long ways in Cambodia.” Terry said. “The reality is the need is as wide and as long as the Mekong.”
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Cambodia invites Indian investments in agriculture, IT and infrastructure

New Delhi, Dec 8 Cambodia has invited Indian investments in manufacturing, services, infrastructure and human resources development and said it would export to India some agricultural products in which it is competitive.

Speaking at an interaction with the Indian industry here on Saturday jointly hosted by the apex bodies, FICCI, Assocham and CII, Cambodian prime minister Samdech Akka Moha Sena Pai Techo Hun Sen said, “We are strongly determined to attract as much as possible foreign direct investment (FDIs), including that from India.”

He said under the new policy private investors investing in infrastructure development have the option to build-operate-transfer (BOT) and Build-operate-own (BOO). Foreign investors can do business with or without Cambodian partners. In case of local partnership, the level of equity would be decided by the foreign investor.

On the issue of the ownership of the land, Sen clarified that the right has been reserved for Cambodian citizens, the foreigners can use land through lease contracts for a period up to 99 years.

The Cambodian prime minister called for attracting investments in agro-business, manufacturing, services, tourism, human resources development, hardware and software, roads, bridges, seaports, airports, railways, power, clean water supply, irrigation, development and transfer of knowledge and technology, telecommunications, information technology.

He said, “Cambodia has comparative advantages and potentials in agriculture and agro-industry, labour-intensive industries, processing, tourism, mining and in some sections of manufacturing and services sectors¿ At the same time promising future from commercialisation of oil, gas and other mineral resources has opened up new economic opportunities and hope for Cambodia to become a new development zone in the region.”

At present India-Cambodia bilateral trade is less than $50 million, with balance tilted in favour of India. Cambodian exports to India are negligible. Cambodia is a member of the Asean group, with which India is planning to sign a free trade agreement.

The Cambodian prime minister praised spirit of cooperation expressed by the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh at the 6th Asean-India Summit in Singapore last month.

“I am hopeful that India will positively consider our request to provide assistance in IT, where it is known for its expertise,” the Cambodian prime minister said.

Minister of state for communications and IT Shakeel Ahmed said that cooperation between the two countries in human resources development and It was necessary due to the presence of skilled manpower in both the countries.

He said that India had launched a plan to ensure 1,00,000 boardband connectivity in rural areas.
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Cambodian PM arrives to boost bilateral ties with India

New Delhi, Dec 7 : Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived here today on a four-day visit to take forward the bilateral relations with India.

India and Cambodia are expected to sign several agreements aimed at enhancing bilateral cooperation in the fields of defence, water resources, agriculture, petroleum and commerce.

Sen is leading a delegation, including the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence, Minister of Commerce, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

He is scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, who will host a banquet in honour of the visiting dignitary on the evening of December 8.

Sen will also call on President Pratibha Patil and Vice President Hamid Ansari. He will also meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

He will address a business luncheon meeting jointly organized by the CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM.

During his stay in India, the visiting Prime Minister will visit Hyderabad, where he will go to the National Institute of Rural Development and the Hitech City. He will call on the Governor of Andhra Pradesh on December 9.
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Cambodia offers fresh investment opportunities

Tourism in Cambodia is increasing and attracting more of the high end tourists, as oppose to predominantly back packers. Especially in the capital Pnomh Penh, growth as a popular holiday destination strengthening the rental market has seen capital appreciation hit a steady 25%.

Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh and the finesse of its French riverside quarter play host to refurbished yet undeniably remarkable 1-2 bedroom apartments and the 2 year guaranteed 10% rental return they offer. In light of its freshly found allure amidst the international property investment market, Cambodia’s capital growth is expected to see a 15-20% growth.

So, considering the fact that Cambodia and its economy are set to grow from strength to strength, along with any investment made in the region, perhaps this is an opportunity to be investigated further.

Available exclusively through reputable overseas property investment specialists David Stanley Redfern Ltd from $55,000, at least an enquiry into the many attractive features on offer is surely worth making. But first, let’s take a closer look at what that kind of money can buy.

Aside from the auspicious apartment itself, abundant with only the most sleek and modern furnishings and finished to an incomparably high standard, what does the surrounding Cambodian capital have to offer? Once referred to as The Pearl of Asia, this architecturally awe inspiring city is today’s wealthiest and most populous Cambodian city, giving it a charged and vibrant climate that’s simply wonderful.

Its busy inhabitants are peaceful folk of which some are Buddhists, who along with many tourists frequent the many breathtaking attractions, the most popular being the Royal Palace.

Phnom Penh’s main shopping centre is the Phsar Thom Thmei market place which too attracts visitors, each eager to behold its vast array of treasures. From plant life to antique currency and opulent foods to fancy fabrics, it’s sure to be found on the stalls of this enigmatic, once in a lifetime shopping experience.

Serviced by the usual taxis and tuk-tuks, Phnom Penh also boasts road, river and rail transport as well as its very own airport, notably Cambodia’s largest. Phnom Penh is both accessible and accommodating for any international investment making traveller, enabling simple return visits to and from its shores.

So, a top specification apartment in one of the world’s most exciting cities, how do you get a piece of the action? Anyone interested in this unique investment opportunity amidst a recognised emerging and opportune market, enhanced by the regions economic boom should contact David Stanley Redfern Ltd to discuss the range of helpful options that are available to potential investors.

Find out more about our Cambodia investment property at

Please direct all media queries, requests for press information and editorial details, to

About David Stanley Redfern Ltd

David Stanley Redfern Ltd is an overseas property specialist, working directly with developers in more than forty countries. Most properties are exclusive to David Stanley Redfern Ltd, giving an unparalleled selection of resale and new builds. David Stanley Redfern Ltd is AIPP accredited.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Maiden flight linking Europe, Cambodia to touch down at Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- The Air Finland's Boeing 757 commenced operations on Friday to launch the first commercial direct flight linking Europe and Cambodia, said a press release from SCA, Cambodia's airport management authority.

The aircraft is expected to land at 18:25 local time (1125 GMT)with 213 passengers on board and the new route from Stockholm to Phnom Penh will be a breakthrough by connecting Phnom Penh International Airport to major European cities, it said.

To begin, the carrier plans to operate thrice monthly charter flights with 219-seat Boeing 757s.
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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Former Khmer Rough of Cambodia blames rich countries for climate change

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, has blamed industrialised countries for causing climate change, saying poor nations are the ones bearing the brunt from the fall-out.

Speaking during the launch of a new strategy to deal with the country's economic challenges, Mr Hun Sen said climate change is not caused by small countries like Cambodia, but larger countries that release smoke into the air.

He says it is unfair that the benefits go to big countries that release smoke, while small countries are being damaged.

The prime minister says while some countries cut the forests to develop their countries, they now ban nations like Cambodia from doing the same, adding that it's time for it to use natural resources to develop the economy.

Mr Hun Sen's comments came as nearly 190 countries gathered on Indonesia's resort island of Bali to come up with a roadmap for creating a fresh pact to combat global warming.
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Oil and petrol ‘bleed’ through border gates

Political conspiracy and economic suppression are the facts that sqeesing cambodian throats in order to make Vietnameses getting rich, this is the developing plan that Hun Xen operating through the whole country.

VietNamNet Bridge – A lot of petrol and oil is being illegally exported to Cambodia, as the petrol price there is VND3,000/litre higher than that in Vietnam.

A resident in the southern province of An Giang said the petrol price in Cambodia is $1/litre and the oil price is nearly the same, consequently, Cambodians have been crossing the border to purchase cheaper petrol they can sell at home for a tidy profit.

On So Thuong River in Dong Thap province, many boats can be seen carrying petrol and DO oil to Prey Veng province in Cambodia.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese farmers cannot purchase oil for their pumps because filling stations and privately owned petrol shops only want to sell oil and petrol to Cambodians who will pay more.

A lot of Vietnamese farmers now have a new job: they carry petrol and oil for Cambodians. On average, an ex-farmer may earn VND40-50,000 if they carry 60 litres of petrol or oil. Meanwhile, Vietnamese tobacco smugglers have shifted to the oil trade which is much more lucrative.

Tran Minh Tien, Head of the Ha Tien Border Gate’s Customs Agency, acknowledged that his agency cannot stop the illegal export of petrol.

He said that there are many reasons that encourage illegal petrol exports. While the petrol in Vietnam is cheap thanks to the Government’s subsidization scheme, the price in Cambodia is much higher as it follows global price fluctuations.

There are numerous filling stations along the N1 road in Kien Giang province, but the stations are not open during the day. Nguyen Van Na, a farmer in Tan Khanh commune, complained that he could not buy oil for his harvester, saying that petrol distributors only work in the evening and only sell petrol to Cambodians.

The An Giang Market Control Taskforce said that it has discovered several illegal export rings so far this year, seizing nearly 30,000 litres of oil, while Kien Giang and Dong Thap provinces seized 5,000 litres. However, Mr Tien said this figure is insignificant compared to the amount of illegally exported product, adding that their confiscations are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

“Our staff is too small to deal with the strong force of illegal exporters,” Mr Tien said.

The Ministry of Finance’s latest move was to issue the decision to increase A92 petrol retail prices on the domestic market by a maximum of VND 1,700 a litre and oil prices by VND1,500-VND1,600 a litre to VND13,000/litre. Vietnam announced it would float the petrol price back in mid 2007 and the Government subsidy programme is essential to curbing the inflation rate.

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River dolphins in bid to renew northeast Cambodian economy

The last 80 or so river dolphins in the Mekong River are at the heart of an ambitious development programme to tackle poverty and attract tens of thousands of visitors to two of the poorest provinces of Cambodia.

The Mekong River Discovery Trail Project will draw visitors to view the endangered fresh water dolphin which lives in 10 deep water natural pools in a 190-km stretch of the Mekong River, mostly between the quiet provincial capitals of Kratie and Stung Treng.

The main objective of the Discovery Trail is poverty alleviation. About 50% of all households in Stung Treng and 30% of those in Kratie live on less than US$1 a day. "The Mekong River Discovery Trail Project aims to bring about sustainable pro-poor tourism that helps develop Northeast Cambodia," says Dr Harsh Varma, Director of Development Assistance Department of the World Tourism Organization.

While Cambodia's tourism arrival statistics show growth in excess of 20% a year, it is not equitably distributed, says Ms Anne-Maria Makela, Senior Tourism Advisor for SNV Netherlands Development Organisation. "Too much of it goes to Angkor and Siem Reap. We want to bring more communities into the tourism picture, either as employees or as suppliers to the tourism industry."

In addition to 80,000 domestic tourists, the Cambodian government says that about 10,800 international visitors, mostly backpackers, visited Kratie in 2006, 35% up on the previous year. It estimates that 4,000 visited Stung Treng, an increase of 20%. Nearly all stayed in guest houses for less than US$5 a night and took motos, bicycles, motorbikes and longtail boats to see the dolphins, which must break surface every few minutes for air.

By seeking out the dolphins, backpackers have indicated the potential to the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism, which is now mobilising money and expertise from SNV and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

A study conducted jointly by SNV and the International Finance Corporation found that only 12% of the US$3.12 million dollars spent by tourists in Kratie in 2006 returned to people from a poor or near poor background. However, SNV says that when tourism spreads its roots this figure is likely to expand to around 30%. The survey showed that 80% of people working in the accommodation and restaurants in Kratie came from very poor families.

As part of the project to attract tourists to the Mekong, villagers near the pools will be encouraged to diversify economic activity away from fishing. Local authorities believe fishing is depleting the dolphins' food supply. Fishermen will be encouraged to take visitors to see the dolphins and sell food and drinks instead.

"No dolphins means no tourism. No tourism means no development," says Dr Thong Khon, Cambodia's Minister of Tourism. "Our challenge is to secure the long-term viable future of local communities and the river dolphin. Our priority is to build community awareness as well as hotels, guest houses and a boat jetty in Kratie to encourage more visitors."

Phase I of the project, the Tourism Development Master Plan for Kratie town, was completed in September 2007. Phase II, the design and development of the Mekong River Discovery Trail, community based tourism and training, will start in December 2007.

The project will only directly help selected villages along the route. However, the UNWTO believes "backward linkages" such as tourism demand for agricultural produce will indirectly help hundreds more. The UNWTO and its partners admit they will need to carry out a lot of public awareness and training programmes, as well as build jetties and seek investors for hotels.

Access and infrastructure in Kratie and Stung Treng are problematic. There is no international standard hotel. There is no local airport. The nearest is in Phnom Penh, a five-hour road trip or a six-hour congested public boat trip away.

Nevertheless, budget travellers and a few tour groups have already ‘discovered' Kratie, which still has some architecture and ambience from the French colonial period. Visitors to Kratie and Stung Treng praise the simple pleasures of travelling in country lanes near the river. There are enjoyable chance encounters with monks, school children and villagers in riverside huts selling snacks and toddy palm drinks. Apart from seeing the dolphins, gathering by the Mekong to watch the sun go down across the river is part of Kratie's simple appeal.

The few tour groups that do visit Kratie tend to only spend an hour or so viewing the dolphins, a nearby temple and a rubber plantation. The groups then continue on to the mountains and hilltribe attractions of Rattanakiri province before returning to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, where the Angkor ruins are.

"Kratie has potential," says Mr Luzi Matzig, Group CEO of Bangkok-based tour operator Asian Trails. "But there needs to be a lot more investment in three-star accommodation, restaurants and riverine attractions before it becomes a significant destination.

"What I do like about the place is the charm and friendliness of the people and the feeling that you're part of an authentic Khmer experience."

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Cambodians Get Medical Aid, English Lessons from U.S. Military

USS Essex, Marine unit work with Sihanoukville-area communities

By Peggy B. Hu
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington -- Providing medical and dental care, teaching English, fixing buildings and strengthening military ties between the United States and Cambodia were among the projects the USS Essex and a Marine expeditionary unit attached to the ship undertook during a recent port visit to Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

"Essex sailors are honored to have the opportunity to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia as part of the broadening and deepening relations between our navies and our two governments," Captain Brian T. Donegan, the Essex's commanding officer, said in a U.S. Navy press release.

During their weeklong visit November 26-December 1, U.S. military personnel worked with Cambodian teams to provide medical services -- including cataract surgery -- and dental care to communities in Cambodia's Kampong Cham and Preah Vihear provinces and to construct two bridges and a culvert to connect the villages of Sre Sa and Oloy in Kampong Chhnang province.

The Essex and the Marine unit also conducted military-to-military training; participated in a three-day cultural exchange program at the National Defense University in Phnom Penh; and performed community relations projects such as making basic repairs to buildings, providing basic English classes and distributing donated materials such as books and clothing through the U.S. Navy's Project Handclasp program.

On the lighter side, sailors and Marines played duck-duck-goose, hopscotch, marbles and soccer (football) games with children at local primary schools; participated in a soccer tournament and barbecue with Cambodian army cadets at Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville; and attended the second annual Christmas lighting ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. The U.S. 7th Fleet band also performed with local musicians at an orphanage.

"Having Essex come here allowed us to give something to the Cambodian people," Lieutenant Commander Ronnie Mangsat of Amphibious Squadron 11 said in a release from the Essex's public affairs office. "Coming here shows them what we are capable of and that we are willing to take the time to help our new friends."

The Essex's visit was the second by a U.S. Navy ship to Cambodia in 2007; the USS Gary visited in February. The Sihanoukville port visit was part of the Essex's annual fall patrol to East and Southeast Asia, during which the crew and its Marine unit will conduct training events focusing on sea- and land-based capabilities and interact with local communities.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bail denied in Cambodia war crimes trial

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—A U.N.-backed genocide tribunal ordered a former Khmer Rouge prison chief kept in detention Monday on charges of crimes against humanity.

After an hour of deliberations, the tribunal said Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, might try to flee or threaten witnesses.

Defense lawyers had demanded his release last month, arguing his rights were violated because he has spent more than eight years in jail without trial.

Duch was arrested in 1999 and detained at a Cambodian military prison on war crimes charges before his transfer to the tribunal's custody in July.

The five-judge panel presided over by Chief Judge Prak Kimsan ordered Duch kept in detention, saying that if he were released, his life could be in danger or he might try to flee and could pose a threat to witnesses.

The decision by the panel made up of three Cambodian judges and two U.N.-appointed foreigners was unanimous, said Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's public affairs chief.

Canadian prosecutor Robert Petit had told the judges at a Nov. 21 hearing that if Duch was released, he could be harmed by both "accomplices wishing to silence him and by the relatives of victims seeking revenge."

Chea Leang, a Cambodian prosecutor, said Duch's trial may begin in mid-2008 but gave no specific date.

Francois Roux, Duch's lawyer from France, said the defense team plans to raise the custody issue again during the trial.

Duch, 65, oversaw the S-21 prison, which has since been converted into the popular Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

As many as 16,000 men, women and children were tortured at S-21 before being transported out of Phnom Penh and executed. Only 14 people are thought to have survived.

The Khmer Rouge has been blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during their rule from 1975 to 1979. Some observers fear the group's surviving leaders might die before being brought to justice. The movement's notorious chief, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Duch is one of five former Khmer Rouge leaders held in connection with the Communist regime's brutal rule of Cambodia. He became the first defendant to appear before the tribunal's judges.
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