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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

County to host Cambodian delegation in New Year


On the heels of a successful assessment mission to the Battambang District in October, the County of Kings will host a delegation from Cambodia in March as part of Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) municipal partnership program.

Kings County corporate services director Bill McKennan, who made a presentation to councillors at the December committee of the whole (COTW) session, said the program is sponsored by the FCM and funded through the Canadian International Development Agency, although “projects belong to the communities involved.” Their partnership is with the Battambang District in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

“Each partnership is a joint initiative between a Canadian municipality and an overseas partner,” he said. The partnership involves a two- or three-year commitment requiring staff and council time, energy and travel.

The goal is to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life and sustainability of local communities by developing and empowering local government. This specific partnership project is to improve the quality of life in Battambang District and selected pilot communes through better environmental stewardship.

During the assessment mission to Cambodia in October, McKennan, Councillor Wayne Atwater and Valley Waste Resource Management policy coordinator Brian Van Rooyen introduced Kings County to the Battambang District, gained an understanding of local government in Cambodia and assessed Battambang’s capacity building needs in inter-communal cooperation, environmental management and awareness and waste management.

Intensive meetings

Activities included two weeks of intensive meetings with national and provincial local government associations; briefings with senior government officials and meetings with government staff; tours of selected communes and discussions with elected officials; meetings with potential resource organizations currently in Cambodia, including charity groups and foundations; providing input into the development of local government framework; and a meeting with the Master Plan District Advisor.

The county will host the Cambodian delegation as part of the Project Definition Mission from March 21 to April 4. Technical exchange missions will begin in May and there will be an evaluation mission at the conclusion of the project, in about two-and-a-half years.

The Cambodian delegation to visit in the spring is expected to include the provincial governor, the Battambang district governor, their local project coordinator (the deputy district governor), a representative of their department of environment, a representative of one of the pilot communes (also the chief of commune and deputy chief of the Provincial Association of Communes) and an interpreter.

The next steps include completing the agenda for the March visit, having a finalized proposal approved by both councils, and planning for technical exchanges.

McKennan said a Kings County engineering firm has already set up an office in Cambodia because of the number of contracts they’ve obtained.

The county got involved in the partnership program after Councillor Janet Newton brought forth a motion when the FCM issued a call for expressions of interest. Following a series of interviews, the County of Kings was selected as the best fit for the program.
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Immigration law makes deportations easy - but life hard

Divided families and limited judicial leeway are consequences of mid-1990 s reform act - Last in a three-part series

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - When Veasana Ath got busted for residential burglary in 2004, he had no idea that his future as a U.S. resident was imperiled.

Ath came to this country with his family as a toddler. Although he never became a citizen, he never thought he was anything but American.

After doing three months in jail, Ath was picked up by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, predecessor to the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

By the end of the year, he was in Cambodia penniless, with no job, no family or friends and virtually no chance of ever returning home.

The story of Ath and 188 other Cambodian-Americans sent back to their homes has its roots in the 1996 presidential race, the aftermath of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the roiling world of immigration politics.

When the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act was passed by Congress in 1996, among its main goals was expelling and stiffening penalties against aliens who overstay visa allowances and improving security against illegal immigration on the borders and internally.

The law came in the wake of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, when immigration was a hot topic in the run-up to the 1996 presidential election.

While the law achieved some its objectives, it also spawned a population of immigrants, green-card holding "lawful permanent residents," who could be more easily deported.

reason for this was a provision in the law that greatly expanded the list of crimes that qualified as "aggravated felonies" that would make aliens deportable.

When the category of "aggravated felonies" was first added to immigration law in 1988, it encompassed only murder and trafficking in drugs or firearms.

Those crimes along with a number of other violent and sex crimes remain as deportable offenses. But the 1996 law also added dozens of lesser offenses. These can include forgery, burglary, tax evasion, domestic abuse and any attempt to commit an aggravated felony.

A number of crimes make aliens deportable if the sentence is a year or more, regardless of time served or whether the sentence was suspended. It even includes crimes that are misdemeanors in some states.

The legislation also reduced leeway for judges to consider providing relief. Issues such as immigration status, time lived in the U.S., existence of family who are citizens, ties to the community, or service to the U.S., including military, are not considered.

Whether this was an intended consequence depends on to whom you talk. But the fallout has been substantial.

Separating families
According to a Human Rights Watch report in July 2007, deportation of legal immigrants convicted of crimes "has separated an estimated 1.6 million children and adults, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from their non-citizen family members."

It has hit hard in the Cambodian-American community in Long Beach since 2002, when Cambodia began accepting deportees.

Nationally, 189 Cambodians have been sent back since repatriation began. Another 1,700 are under deportation orders that can be carried out at any time. And it is believed a similar number may be eligible for deportation but have not been apprehended or charged.

Only Cambodia's slow and deliberate process of accepting returnees keeps many of the local Cambodians from being removed more quickly. Many have been under deportation orders for years awaiting Cambodia's decisions.

Cambodians constitute a tiny portion of the overall number of deported aliens. In fiscal year 2008, 349,041 aliens were returned to their native countries, up from 288,663 in 2007.

Of more than 111,711 criminal removals in 2008, according to ICE records, 30 percent were for "dangerous drugs" and 17 percent for violent crimes.

Immigration officials have a different take on their role in splitting families.

"We don't separate families," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE. "We enforce the law."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, who represents coastal portions of Long Beach, puts the onus on the families.

"The only families being separated are those who don't want to stay with the loved one," Rohrabacher said. "They can go back to that country, there are no restrictions on that.

"Early on I bought into the idea (of the hardship of splitting families.) But after looking at the reality, I found it to be a false premise."

Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach, did not respond to several interview requests from the Press-Telegram.

Breaking the law
Kice says the immigrants who break laws that make them deportable are the ones responsible for splitting families.

"The vast majority of legal immigrants who come here adhere to the laws,"' Kice says.

She wonders why "it becomes ICE's fault that these people came and made bad decisions."

Rohrabacher says the U.S. does its part by offering residency in the first place, but can't be responsible if the aliens commit felonies.

"When someone comes (to the United States) legally, they sign a contract that they will obey laws," Rohrabacher says.

That explanation doesn't fly with some in the legal profession, who say deportation for minor crimes often outweighs the offense.

John Hall, a professor at Chapman University who teaches international law and has visited Cambodia, says "The issue is legal proportion."

"I see no benefit in splitting a family with U.S. citizen children and those citizen children having to grow up without loving parents, and the human consequences of that," said Yunie Hong, an attorney with Legal Aid who specializes in immigration law.

"I feel people don't understand the human face behind the immigrant question. If people really knew what happened to people as a result, families, the children, the horrors people suffered in their home countries and the horrors faced coming here may think twice."

Rohrabacher says criminals have themselves to blame.

"If someone participates in a crime that has the risk of causing harm to someone else, they should be deported. How much risk should someone be allowed to take with someone else's life? Zero."

Solange Kea, a Cambodian-American attorney who works in immigration law, says it is the broad-brush application of the law that is troubling.

"I believe immigration law is not per se bad,"' Kea says. "It's just sometimes applied in certain situations that makes it look bad."

She says this is particularly true when an entire family is hurt by a deportation.

Sophea Ath, Veasana's older sister, is no fan of the law, but is angry at her brother for his actions.

"I love him, but at the same time I'm pissed off at him for making the family go through this and for being selfish," she says. "Some might say, 'It's my life,' but everything you do affects everyone around you, especially the family."

Before the 1996 legislation, judges had more latitude to decide if an alien should be deported. The downside to supporters of stiffer immigration penalties is the old law gave lawyers the ability to delay removals for years while stringing out cases through the judicial system.

Even when there may be grounds for a deportee to stay, Hong says the law is often capriciously applied by politically appointed judges.

"Whether (potential deportees) get relief depends on the judge, not the actual baseline qualifications for relief," Hong said. "There are many decisions that depend (on) the courtroom you end up in."

And the consequences can be immense.

"It is literally a case of life and death and unfortunately it is being made by people who were appointed for political reasons," Hong said.

Special cases
Then there is the issue of whether there should be special status for Cambodian refugees.

Immigration law makes few destinctions between those who choose to come into this country and engage in crime and those who are brought here and have lived most of their lives in the U.S., built relationships, worked, paid taxes and started families.

Or those who fled brutal, repressive regimes.

"For me the unique thing (about Cambodians) is the trying aspects under which they came here," Hall says.

Cambodians fled genocide. Most were illiterate and suffered the traumas of sickness, starvation and witnessing the slaughter of friends and family.

Furthermore, many were relocated to violent neighborhoods in the U.S. As some say, "trading one war zone for another."

Mary Blatz, a Catholic lay pastor at the Mount Carmel Cambodian Center in central Long Beach, who helps Cambodians with immigration, citizenship and deportation, says, "It's been documented that 68 percent of the community is depressed. They have all the symptoms of (post-traumatic stress disorder.)"

Hall says U.S. policy gives no consideration to special problems Cambodians face.

"It's an ongoing tragedy, a tragedy of almost 30 years," Hall says.

Hong agrees.

"There have been numerous foreign policy decisions (by the U.S.) that create instability in foreign countries," she said. "When those decisions result in migration and force people to flee and seek refuge, the U.S. government has a responsibility to deal with the fallout."

When immigrants are arrested, they first go through the U.S. legal system. Here is where their alien status puts them at risk.

"Most attorneys who practice criminal defense work don't have that knowledge and will take a plea instead of going to trial," Kea says. "That will put a person in the system (and often lead to deportation proceedings)."

Advocates say it is vital for immigrant defendants to consider their status.

Ath, for example, said his public defender never raised the question of citizenship.

Immigrants first serve their U.S. sentence before immigration proceedings and often opt for the shortest time served without understanding the implications of their sentence.

Ath took the plea to reduce jail time without knowing another trial awaited.

Unlike in U.S. criminal court, aliens in deportation court are not guaranteed representation. Finding lawyers is a major hurdle.

"A lot of people have meritorious claims (to stay) but will never have a chance to argue the case because they can't afford a lawyer and the government won't provide one," Hong says.

Ath made the mistake of listening to the advice of fellow inmates rather than hiring a lawyer, in part because he was embarrassed.

"People should use their whole family as a resource and not try to hide," Kea says.

With a lawyer, Ath could have challenged the removal order. He didn't. He wouldn't have been duped into signing his own travel documents, written in Khmer. He did.

The Executive Office of Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, estimates 58 percent of those who appear don't have lawyers.

All of which underscores the importance of citizenship, which, once obtained, prevents deportation.

"It's an inoculation against being deported," Blatz says.

But it is not easily obtained. In addition to the test and language difficulties, the price tag of $675 is a major barrier for many families.

"The government should have helped (Cambodian immigrants) become citizens," Blatz said. "Instead they did the opposite. They put up barriers and did everything they could to stop them."

Ironically, there are many Cambodians who land in immigration court precisely because they try to become citizens.

Kea says unscrupulous or uneducated paralegals apply for citizenship for residents who have committed deportable crimes.

"Attorneys ... know there are certain people who shouldn't apply to be citizens," Kea says.

Once paperwork is in, immigrants who were beneath the radar of ICE can find themselves in removal proceedings.

The good news is that as time passes and the Cambodian population ages and settles, the likelihood of older adults encountering legal problems declines.

But with about 3,500 immigrant Cambodians who theoretically could be deported, the threat hangs heavily.

Serey, who asked that his real name not be used, is an immigrant under a deportation order for a serious crime he committed when he was a juvenile.

Serey used his jail time to get an education, has turned around his life, works full time in a good job and has become married and had a daughter. But he says he lives every day in fear.

"Being under deportation is being helpless," Serey says. "It's like being on your deathbed."
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Cambodian court releases alleged killers of union boss

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's highest court Wednesday provisionally released two alleged killers of a prominent labour leader and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.

Chea Vichea, who headed the country's largest labour union and was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand in January 2004.

The daylight murder shocked the country and was condemned by Cambodian and international rights groups as a brutal attempt to silence the opposition-linked workers' group.

Just days after the killing, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested, convicted of murder and quickly sentenced to 20 years each in prison.

International and local rights watchdogs had called the conviction and trial deeply flawed.

After the two men made their final appeal during a hearing Wednesday at the Supreme Court, judge Dith Monty, the court's president, dismissed the conviction, which was upheld by the Appeal Court in 2007.

"The case is a criminal one which requires more investigation," Dith Monty said, adding that to make sure the men's rights were not violated, the court had "decided to release the two suspects provisionally, but under watch of the court."

The judge also ordered the Appeal Court to retry the case, adding that the two men had to appear before the court when summoned.

The pair have denied any involvement in the killing. Former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who led the investigation, has also said that the two did not kill Chea Vichea.

The men told the court, which was packed with diplomats, rights activists, journalists and their relatives, that they had been framed by a group of police.

"I am not the killer," said Born Samnang, asking the judges to free him.

UN rights officials, the United States and relatives of the accused welcomed the court's decision.

"It was greeted with a warm round of applause by the public, including the families of the defendants, as it truly deserves," the UN rights office said in a statement.

The UN office "hopes that this decision will set the standards for the future handling of all criminal cases by Cambodian courts," it said.

In a statement, the United States urged the Appeal Court to "take up the case expeditiously and finally resolve this matter in a way consistent with Cambodian law and international standards of due process."

"The decision to release the two on bail and return the case to the appeals court for review was a particularly auspicious way to start the new year," said the US embassy's charge d'affaires Piper Campbell.

"I am very happy and I am excited that my son can stay out of detention," said Born Samnang's mother, Nuon Kimsry.

Rights group Amnesty International last week called for the release of the pair, saying the true perpetrators remained at large.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Vietnam jails five for trafficking women to Malaysia

HANOI (AFP) — A court in communist Vietnam has jailed five people for up to 17 years for trafficking women to Malaysia and forcing them to work as prostitutes, a court official and media reports said Tuesday.

The gang had sent 18 women from Vietnam's poor southern Mekong delta region to Malaysia over the past three years before the ring leaders were arrested in January, said a Can Tho court official who declined to be named.

Hua Thi Thuy Trang, 35 -- identified in media reports as a former prostitute who had worked in Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore -- was jailed for 17 years, while her four accomplices received terms of five to 12 years, the official said.

The Thanh Nien daily reported that the gang lured the women to Malaysia with promises of waitressing jobs, paying their families 800 dollar each while forcing the women to sign promises to pay the group 4,400 dollars each.

Once in Malaysia, the women were closely guarded during the day and forced to have sex with about seven men per night each without payment, the report said, adding that while those who resisted were beaten and starved.

Thousands of Vietnamese women are believed to be trafficked every year, especially to neighbouring China and Cambodia, lured with promises of jobs but then forced to work as prostitutes or to marry.

Between 2005-07, Vietnamese police say they detected 900 trafficking cases involving 2,200 victims, state media have said.

The true extent of the trafficking is unknown and police suspect many of the more than 20,000 Vietnamese women and children who have gone missing since 1975 were victims of trafficking.
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Cambodian tour creates new awareness

Salina Journal

Growing up in Salina, when Ben Romans heard the word "genocide" he thought about Hitler and the Third Reich's concentration camps.

Romans had no idea that as he was completing his junior year at Salina Central High School -- he graduated in 1999 -- the architect of one of the 20th century's most brutal regimes, Pol Pot, died at the age of 73. The atrocities Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge visited upon Cambodians in just three years of power still horrify the world.

If they're even discussed.

"What's bizarre to me is how much I didn't learn about the genocide in Cambodia," Romans said. "That ended while I was alive."

Romans is best known locally as a member of The Click Five, a pop group based in Boston that is preparing to release its third album. The group just completed a series of concerts in southeast Asia as part of an effort to make the world more aware of human trafficking.

The tour, which included concerts in Cambodia and Thailand, allowed members to visit areas where some of the atrocities committed during Pol Pot's regime were committed.

"It was probably the most powerful trip I've been involved with," Romans said. "What an eye-opener."

The tour was a collaboration of MTV Exit (for End Exploiting and Trafficking) and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Click Five, along with groups from Britain, Australia and Asia, performed at the Angkor Wat temple, in Phnom Pehn, and in Bangkok.

Romans said that playing in concert in the iconic 12th century temple -- the first rock concert ever delivered there -- was humbling.

"That kind of stuff makes your dreams come true," he said.

Romans said that learning about human trafficking has been a wrenching experience. Authorities say it's a global and ancient problem. The poor are promised jobs and educational opportunities, usually overseas. When they get there they discover they've been lied to, and they are turned into de facto slaves. If they are women or girls -- and most are -- they typically are forced into prostitution.

"There was a point in my life when I had no idea about human trafficking, no idea about the Pol Pot regime," Romans said. "I've been to a lot of places, but all of a sudden ..."

His voice trails off. "It was so heavy."

The experience has affected him in a number of ways. As a musician and songwriter, it has made him hear different messages in familiar lyrics. As a human, it has tempted him to leave the music scene and become a social worker.

But he's not ready to do that yet. While he is wary of being overtly political with his music, he does believe it can help focus attention on important issues.

"This is my gift," he says. "This is what I have to do."

n Reporter Duane Schrag can be reached at 822-1422 or by e-mail at .
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Fewer Human Deaths From Virus Even as It Spreads Among Poultry


With the arrival of winter, H5N1 avian flu is on the rise again in Asia and Egypt.

The outbreaks are part of an annual trend: cases peak between December and March each year in birds as well as humans.

Children have died from it recently in Indonesia and Egypt, and a Cambodian teenager tested positive but survived.

Only 30 human deaths have been confirmed by the World Health Organization this year. That is well below the 59 recorded last year and the peak of 79 recorded in 2006. All 30 deaths this year occurred in only four countries: Vietnam, China, Indonesia and Egypt. No large family clusters, like those found from 2005 to 2007, have been confirmed.

Indonesia may have had more flu deaths than it has admitted. Its health minister said in June that she “wanted to focus on positive steps by the government” and would not announce all confirmed deaths. There were several family clusters of fatal respiratory diseases this year, according to news reports, but all were officially attributed to other causes.

New poultry outbreaks have been found recently in Kandal province in Cambodia, Jiangsu province in eastern China, rural parts of Hong Kong, Bangladesh and West Bengal and Assam provinces in India.

Although there have been no human deaths in India, poultry outbreaks appear to be increasing rapidly. In other countries in this situation, human cases have usually followed.

India does not vaccinate poultry. China does, and mismatched vaccines may be to blame for new outbreaks, experts said.

Some vaccines were made from H5N2 virus strains, and their ability to protect against H5N1 may have faded.

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Cambodian FM: Thai FM plans to visit Cambodia for border issues

PHNOM PENH, Newly appointed Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya plans to visit Cambodia to continue discussion on the border issues between the two countries, said the Cambodian foreign minister here on Tuesday.

"Yesterday, the Thai foreign minister called me to extend the best wishes for a happy New Year and said that he plans to visit Cambodia," Hor Namhong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told reporters at his office.

"He is willing to continue the discussion to seek resolution inpeaceful and friendly ways for the border issues," he said.

We all put aside the possibility of military conflict and will keep restraints over the border issues, he said.

"As you all have seen, the internal matters of Thailand have made the border resolution so slow," he added.

Cambodia will resume talks with Thailand over their disputed border in late January, as a tense military standoff at contested areas of the frontier enters its sixth month, English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post said on Monday.

Cambodia and Thailand have never finally demarcated their 805-km shared border, but a meeting between both foreign ministers in November yielded an agreement to scale down troop numbers along the border and begin demarcation and demining operations from mid-December.
It was the most concrete progress made yet to resolve tensions on the border, which escalated after Cambodia first accused Thai troops of entering its territory in July, shortly after Cambodia'sPreah Vihear Temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Exiled to Cambodia

By Greg Mellen, staff writer

LONG BEACH - For the first few months afterward, whenever the doorbell rang, 5-year-old Dieon Rin rushed to answer yelling, "It's Daddy! Daddy's home!"

But it never was Daddy. Never will be. The truth is something even Dieon's mother has been unable to grasp, much less explain to her son - Daddy can never come home again.

The father, Phally Rin, was deported to Cambodia in April for a crime committed more than a decade earlier.

Under U.S. law, he is permanently barred from returning to this country.

Veasana Ath was a carefree young man. He wasn't a bad kid, just easily swayed by friends. His older sister, Sophea, would scold him and say he'd wind up in trouble one day.

Neither realized how right she was.

After being convicted of residential burglary in early 2004, Ath was put on a plane in December of that year and sent to Cambodia.

Rin and Ath are part of a growing number of Cambodian-American men who have been deported from the United States to the impoverished land of their birth.

Before deportation, the two had little or no connection to their 'homeland.' They fled the ravages of the Cambodian genocide with their families as young children.

They were raised and schooled in the U.S. and yet, from now on, they are forever Cambodian, with no hope of returning to their families and the land where they were raised, but not born.

Rin and Ath are just two of 189 Cambodian- Americans deported for a variety of crimes, ranging from murder and rape to lesser offenses like burglary and crimes committed long ago.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data on removals in

2008, of more than 111,000 criminal removals, 30 percent were for "dangerous drugs" and

17 percent were for violent crimes. The rest were for a range of lesser crimes, including traffic offenses.

Nationally, an estimated 1,700 Cambodian-Americans are under deportation orders and can be rounded up at any time. Another 1,700 may be eligible for deportation but have not been charged. Many live in Long Beach, which has the nation's largest population of Cambodian refugees.

Overall, nearly 350,000 aliens were deported in 2008, the majority to Latin America.

Innocents suffer

The families of Rin and Ath are the innocents caught in the aftermath of laws passed in 1996 that changed U.S. deportation policy and have resulted in a staggering increase in removals of immigrants, who became eligible for deportation when Congress expanded the list of deportable crimes.

ICE has ramped up its efforts to snare criminal aliens by working more closely with prisons and jails to identify incarcerated noncitizens.

It is a strategy endorsed by many in Congress.

"I would suggest that anything that is a felony, any behavior that causes someone to be convicted, is a good reason to deport them," says Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, whose district includes portions of coastal Long Beach.

Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach, did not respond to several interview requests.

The Human Rights Watch estimates the deportation of legal immigrants has separated 1.6 million children and adults.

In Long Beach, a large number of Cambodians have been expelled. Their family members, many of them American citizens, are the collateral damage.

Suely Ngouy, the executive director of Khmer Girls In Action, which is involved in immigrant and refugee rights issues, says deportation has ripped a swath through the local Cambodian community, and crushed an already fragile segment of the population.

"It has devastated families emotionally," says Ngouy, who knows many affected families. "It takes away a son, a daughter, a sibling that has kept together the fabric of what little stability exists."

Since Ath's deportation, his mother has had a series of health problems, including minor strokes, that the family attributes to stress.

Kim Hok, 61, doesn't speak much English. But as she listens to the family talk about Veasana, she understands enough. Her eyes fill with tears. She excuses herself from the room and rises unsteadily. The only sound is her cane clicking on the tile floor.

For many families, the shame they feel over deportation leaves them suffering in silence and fear.

Tuy Sobil, a former Crips gang member convicted of armed robbery and deported to Cambodia, has become a success story in Phnom Penh. He has turned around his criminal life and now runs a successful nonprofit called Tiny Toones that helps children from the slums through break dancing, of all things.

Despite his turnaround and newfound celebrity, Tuy's parents turn down requests for interviews.

"It's just too hard for them," says Dabson Tuy, Sobil's brother.

Horrors revisited

Most Cambodian families are refugees from the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970 s that claimed about 2 million lives. Most saw family members, friends, children and adults removed by a ruthless government. They fled to escape that.

"We came here because of U.S. intervention and involvement (in our country)," Ngouy says.

The damage is extensive, she adds - retraumatization from the removals, deepening of poverty from the loss of wage earners and additional mental health problems, such as depression.

"To have to go through this exhausts what little resources they have to survive and it's affecting the second generation that is supposed to be the hope," Ngouy says.

To her, the longer-term outcome has been to retard the growth of the overall community, because younger Cambodians see little hope and opportunity after witnessing their parents' struggles.

Lekha Khin, the brother-in-law of Ath, says he lost 50 to 60 family members in the genocide and is one of the few left. It dismays him that the United States is now tearing his family apart.

"The government, they don't feel nothing," Khin says.

Sakhoun Yim, Rin's mother, says she dragged her family for a week through rice paddies and minefields to escape the holocaust before reaching a refugee camp.

In 1997, Yim watched in horror from her porch in central Long Beach as her youngest son, Simona Rin, was shot in the back by a drive-by shooter as he was going to play basketball. A 16-year-old at Wilson High, Simona was described by as a "model kid," with no gang history.

Yim lost another son, Akhara Rin, to street violence in Lowell, Mass., in 1993, and a grandson, Kerry Ya, was fatally shot at a friend's house in Long Beach in 2003.

And now she has lost Phally.

"I hurt so bad in my heart," she says in a choking voice. "I have two kids killed here. I don't want to live any more. I want they kill me."

Admittedly, many Cambodian-American deportees led violent lives, spent long stretches in jail and were members of notorious gangs. Several we met in Cambodia said the U.S. has been right to deport them.

Still the one-size-fits-all justice that can treat a petty one-time criminal like Ath the same as a career gangster has many deportation-reform advocates dumbfounded.

"The laws are not only cruel in their rigidity, they are senseless," said Alison Parker, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in a report for that organization. "How do you explain to a child that her father has been sent thousands of miles away and can never come home simply because he forged a check?"

Ghosts of crimes past

In 1989 as a teenager, Rin was in a friend's car in Massachusetts. When the teens were pulled over, a gun was found in the car and Rin did 18 months in state and INS custody on the gun charge.

He was ordered removed, although it meant little because Cambodia did not accept U.S. deportees.

Rin stayed out of trouble after the arrest and moved with his family to California.

Federal law changed in 1996, in the wake of the first bombing of the World Trade Center and widespread demands for immigration reform.

As part of the overhaul, a long list of crimes was added that made legal immigrants eligible for deportation, including crimes predating the law, such as Phally's gun charge. In 2002, Cambodia signed an agreement with the U.S. to accept deportable aliens.

Without knowing it, Rin had become deportable.

In 2004, neighbors called police during a domestic dispute in which Rin struck his wife, Solonly Kong. After being charged with spousal battery, Rin learned he was eligible for removal for the 15-year-old gun charge.

In 2007, Rin was fitted him with an ankle bracelet to monitor his movements and ordered to report regularly to immigration offices.

"They just put it on his ankle and said, 'Maybe in two years we'll let you go,"' Kong recalls. "They just lied."

Four years later, Rin was put on a plane to Cambodia.

Kong says Rin was the ideal husband, who stayed home and tended to his family.

"He make one mistake," she said in halting English. "If he was a bad guy, I don't feel this way. But he was always working seven days to support his family, even if he have an ache he did not stop. Any kind of job he would work."

Dieon is not the only child who is struggling without a father. Kong says she has a 15-year-old son from a previous relationship, who is "out of control" without the influence of a stepfather.

Kong feels lost and confused. She wants to join her husband in Cambodia after her oldest son finishes high school, but doesn't know how they would survive or what that would do to Dieon.

She wonders if Rin might be allowed to return one day.

"If he could come back in 10 years, I would wait," she says wistfully.

She asks if he can immigrate to Canada or Australia. She has no idea.

In the meantime, she calls Rin almost daily in Cambodia. Most of the conversations end in tears.

"Sometimes I go to places we would always go and I cry," Kong says.

She sees young families. She sees fathers with their sons and it all crashes in on her.

"That's why I don't want to go anywhere," she says. "I think I cannot live without him."

Kong says Dieon cries all the time for his daddy.

"I don't know what to tell him," she says through translation. "He's too young to understand that Daddy can't come back."

The last time Dieon saw his father, Rin was at a detention facility in Los Angeles. Dieon was weeping and kicking at the door, demanding that immigration officials let his daddy go.

Kong says she told Dieon his father had to go far away for work. She says when Dieon talked to his father, he pleaded with Rin to come back.

"He was saying 'I don't need any toys, Daddy, just please come home,"' Kong remembers.

Now Dieon often refuses to talk to his father on the phone because he thinks Daddy doesn't want to live with him.

No more tomorrows

Ath thought there was always tomorrow. While his older siblings worked hard, built businesses, went on to higher education and got jobs in government and private industry, Ath drifted through life.

His older siblings became citizens, but Ath never got around to it. Now, he never will.

It was stupidity that landed Ath in jail, then a series of legal missteps and ignorance that got him deported.

As Ath tells the story, he gave a friend a ride to the home of the friend's ex-girlfriend. She wasn't home, but while Ath waited in the car the friend stole her car keys. A neighbor recorded Ath's license plate.

Ashamed and embarrassed, Ath never told his family. A public defender negotiated a plea for a one-year sentence, of which Ath only had to serve a few months in county jail.

Possible immigration consequences never came up. Ath was transferred to ICE custody after serving his sentence and unwittingly signed documents, written in Khmer, accepting his removal.

Ath was released and thought if he changed his ways and proved he was responsible he would be allowed to stay in the U.S.

"I got a job and I worked every day," Ath says.

One day, however, ICE agents appeared at Ath's home, cuffed him and soon he was on a chartered flight with other deportees to Cambodia.

Life has been harsh and lonely in Cambodia, Ath says. At first he hung out with other American deportees, but tired of being ostracized. Now he says he spends his time alone.

When Ath first arrived in Cambodia, he found work but later gave up the job because co-workers who were Cambodian nationals harassed him, defaced his locker and slashed the tires to his bike.

After being unemployed for three years and existing off what money his family can spare, Ath says he recently found a job at a hotel. He is in his probationary period with the company.

The loneliness is one of the hardest parts for Ath, who has no relatives in Cambodia and misses his family.

"I just want a chance at least to visit my family," Ath says.

Sophea, 34, is able to keep a cool exterior when talking to reporters about her brother. But as she is walking to them to the gate of her home, the facade cracks.

"I'm just so mad at him for doing this to our family," she says, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand.

TUESDAY: Some deportees to Cambodia find redemption, others despair and death.
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Cambodian-Thai border talks set for January

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia will resume talks with Thailand over their disputed border in late January, as a tense military standoff at contested areas of the frontier enters its sixth month, national media said on Monday.

"The next meeting (of the Joint Border Commission) will be held in Thailand as agreed," Var Kinhong, Cambodia's top negotiator for border issues, was quoted by English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

"The Thai parliament will hold internal discussion on the border issues first, and after they have approved (the agenda), the two sides will set the schedule," he added.

Cambodia and Thailand have never finally demarcated their 805-km shared border, but a meeting between both foreign ministers in November yielded an agreement to scale down troop numbers along the border and begin demarcation and demining operations from mid-December.
It was the most concrete progress made yet to resolve tensions on the border, which escalated after Cambodia first accused Thai troops of entering its territory in July, shortly after Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Read more!

Dengue kills just 65 in Cambodia in 2008

PHNOM PENH, Only 65 people died from dengue fever in Cambodia in 2008, down from 407 last year thanks to preventive measures taken by the government and international agencies, a Health Ministry official said on Monday.

Dengue, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes fever, headaches and agonising muscle and joint pains, infected 9,300 people during the year compared with 40,000 in 2007, the highest in nearly a decade, said Ngan Chantha, director of the ministry's anti-dengue programme.

"We had the best ever preparation to contain the spread of dengue," he told Reuters.

Dengue kills an estimated 22,000 people a year around the world and, in the absence of commercially available vaccines, health authorities have to focus on controlling mosquitoes to stop it spreading.

The World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the Red Cross provided Cambodia with pesticides to kill mosquitoes this year, and the Asian Development Bank also gave $300,000 to the anti-dengue programme.

Cambodia's health care system was devastated in 30 years of civil war and the government spends just $3 per person a year on health, according to the World Bank. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Alan Raybould)
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vietnam, Cambodia agree to boost agricultural cooperation

VietNamNet Bridge - A senior Cambodian legislator has urged Vietnam to increase its flow of investments into agriculture in his country.

The Chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Commission, Chheang Vun, made the call while meeting with Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia Nguyen Chien Thang on Dec. 25.

Chheang Vun said Cambodia boasts large and fertile farmland acreages which are favourable conditions for investment in agriculture.

The move will benefit both nations as it will help Cambodia learn Vietnam ’s agricultural production experiences and improve the local people’s living conditions, while Vietnam will be able to increase its farm produce output for export, he said.

According to the lawmaker, Cambodia annually exports more than 200 million USD worth of products to Vietnam and imports goods totalling some 1 billion USD from the country.

Ambassador Thang pledged to ask his government to consider Cambodia ’s suggestion, saying that boosting investment in Cambodia is one of Vietnam ’s priorities in order to beef up the bilateral relations.

The ambassador said Vietnamese companies are planning to grow rubber trees on an additional 30,000 ha in Cambodia in addition to over 30,000 ha already planted in Kracheh province.

He also emphasised the importance of cooperation for mutual development in the triangle region shared by Vietnam , Cambodia and Laos .

Vietnam hopes that Cambodia will host a meeting between leaders from the triangle region’s 10 provinces next year to introduce the potentials for development in this area, the diplomat added.
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Cambodian-Thai border talks set for January

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia will resume talks with Thailand over their disputed border in late January, as a tense military standoff at contested areas of the frontier enters its sixth month, national media said on Monday.

"The next meeting (of the Joint Border Commission) will be held in Thailand as agreed," Var Kinhong, Cambodia's top negotiator for border issues, was quoted by English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

"The Thai parliament will hold internal discussion on the border issues first, and after they have approved (the agenda), the two sides will set the schedule," he added.

Cambodia and Thailand have never finally demarcated their 805-km shared border, but a meeting between both foreign ministers in November yielded an agreement to scale down troop numbers along the border and begin demarcation and demining operations from mid-December.
It was the most concrete progress made yet to resolve tensions on the border, which escalated after Cambodia first accused Thai troops of entering its territory in July, shortly after Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Friday, December 26, 2008

Indian investor plans to open pharmaceutical plant in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, (Xinhua): An Indian investment group has tabled a plan at the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce to recruit private partners to build a new pharmaceutics manufacturing plant in the kingdom, national media said on Friday.

The investors prepared to devote some 1 million U.S. dollars to the new facility in a push to help curb counterfeit drugs in Cambodia, said English-language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post.

"They are interested in this sector because they don't want to see Cambodia rely on imported drugs," said Nguon Ming Tech, the group's local representative.

Yim Yann, president of the Pharmacists Association of Cambodia (PAC), said that "a new pharmaceutical factory will bring new technology to Cambodia and will be able to take advantage of local resources."

"Thousands of pharmacies in the country offer imported medicine, much of which is counterfeit," he added.

Cambodia has about 1,000 registered pharmacies, with an additional 1,000 pharmacies operating illegally, according to PAC.

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Palm Springs man helping to clear Cambodia of explosives

The humidity is intense. More than 80 percent, on top of the 90-degree weather. He uses a kroma — a thin scarf — to wipe the sweat out of his blue eyes and over his closely cropped gray hair. He carries rice, water, Spam, Cup of Noodles, coffee and tea on his back. Maybe tonight there will be something else to eat with it other than rat.

Ahead of him in the Cambodian jungle, one of the metal detectors goes off with a “wow, wow” sound. A land mine has been found. Palm Springs resident Bill Morse never thought he would be running a charity to help clear the unexploded bombs and land mines in Cambodia.

Read Bill Morse's blog about his work in Cambodia.

He owned a marketing and sales consulting business, which he closed last year to focus his efforts in Cambodia. Now he spends up to eight months a year working in Cambodia, in the Landmine Relief Fund office or in the jungle, clearing land mines, eating whatever he can catch, and sleeping in huts or on the ground.

“There is a perception that Cambodia is handling it,” Morse said recently, sitting in his living room, surrounded by artifacts from his trips around the world. “Our objective is to clear land mines in low-priority villages.”

The land mines and bombs are from when the United States infiltrated the country and when the Khmer Rouge was in power in the 1970s, Morse said.

More than 500 people were injured from exploding land mines in Cambodia last year, Morse said. An estimated one in every 250 Cambodians has been injured since the 1980s, he said.

Finding Aki Ra
Five years ago, Morse traveled to Cambodia. He had heard of a man named Aki Ra from a friend who had raised money to buy him a metal detector so he didn't have to search for land mines by hand.

Aki Ra has cleared 50,000 land mines — and still has all his limbs. By age 5, he was orphaned. By age 10, he was fighting with the Khmer army, laying the land mines he would later seek to eliminate. When he was a soldier, he could lay 1,000 land mines a day. “Nobody kept a record,” Morse said.

He survived the genocide that killed 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 — more than 20 percent of the country's population, according to Yale University's Cambodia Genocide Program.

It wasn't easy finding Aki Ra. He ran a land mine museum on a dirt road, but the hotel concierge either didn't know of it, or wouldn't tell Morse where it was. When he did find him, Morse said he was overwhelmed by this man, and knew he had to help.

Morse not only set up the Landmine Relief Fund and became its director, but he returned to Cambodia to help Aki Ra with international certification. He joined Aki Ra in the jungle, hunted for meals as they looked for land mines, and stood by his side as he located them in the ground.

“You dig the hole at an angle, so if you hit the land mine, you hit it on the side,” Morse said.

Land mines were never designed to kill, said Morse, who spent a year in the U.S. Army. Injuring people was more effective in the war — as the injured had to be carried by at least two people. This is not to say the mines haven't killed.

Recently, Aki Ra was clearing land mines in a village when the government ordered him to stop. Shortly after, five people were killed when their truck went over one.

Morse spends several months a year in Cambodia, working in the Landmine Relief Fund office and in the jungle with Aki Ra and a five-member crew. When land mines are found, the area is roped off and the devices are blown up. Morse said he used to stand next to Aki Ra as he did his work.

Now, with recent government accreditation, Morse said he goes into the area last and documents what the team does. It takes a team of five to clear the mines — four people are needed to carry a stretcher — he said.

There are several land mine clearing organizations in Cambodia. The issue gained prominence when Princess Diana campaigned for the clearing of devices. There are also several groups affiliated with the cause. Project Enlighten provides educational opportunities for children in Cambodia, including those living at the Landmine Museum run by Aki Ra.

Project Enlighten Founder Asad Rahman knows Morse well and said he is one of the “most honest and driven men” with whom he has worked.

“His vision and passion to help eradicate the land mine issue is unparalleled. He is a saint,” Rahman wrote in an e-mail from Laos to The Desert Sun.

Morse only wishes he could do more. Donations have dribbled recently and he said he would like to have a celebrity step in as a spokesperson to help gain publicity for the cause.

He wants to raise $45,000 to put another team of five into the Cambodian jungles. “I couldn't think of a better way to spend my money and my time. We are going after the stuff we left there. I'm (just) a janitor.”

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Cambodia faces problems enforced new sex trafficking law

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Chantha said there was nothing else she could do in Cambodia but become a prostitute.

"If you don't even have a dollar in your pocket to buy rice, how can you bear looking at your starving relatives?" she said.

"You do whatever to survive, until you start to realize the consequence of your deeds."

Chanta, in her early twenties, was working in a small red-light district west of the capital Phnom Penh several months ago when she was arrested under Cambodia's new sex-trafficking law.

Police nabbed her in a raid and charged her with publicly soliciting sex, fining her nearly two dollars. Then, Chanta claims, the arresting officers gang raped and beat her for six days in detention.

Bruises covered her body, but none of her assailants were brought to court, she said.

The Cambodian government began prosecuting a new "Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation" in February after years of pressure from the United States to clamp down on sex trafficking.

Since then, authorities have conducted brothel raids and street sweeps, but rights groups complain the new law has in many ways worsened the exploitation of women.

"The law allows police of all levels to arrest and punish sex workers," said Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho.

"The sex workers are arrested to police stations and rehabilitation centres and then they are abused."

More than 500 women were arrested for soliciting sex in the first nine months of 2008, according to anti-trafficking organisation Afesip, with many of them forced into rehabilitation centres.

Rights groups say the new law makes women easier prey for traffickers, and could increase rates of sexually-transmitted infections as prostitutes stop carrying condoms out of fear they will be used as evidence against them.

They also allege that detainees are regularly abused at the two rehabilitation centres controlled by Cambodia's ministry of social affairs, Prey Speu and Koh Kor.

Koh Kor has the added grim reputation of being on an island which was the site of a prison and execution camp under Cambodia's murderous 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime.

Despite Chanta and others testifying to instances of rape, beatings and extortion at the hands of police in the rehabilitation centres, authorities have repeatedly denied the abuses.

Major General Bith Kimhong, director of the interior ministry's anti-trafficking department, said he does not believe anyone has been abused under the new law because he has received no complaints from victims.

More than 100 people were arrested this year, as human trafficking prosecutions increased by 50 percent, Bith Kimhong said.

The raids on brothels and streetwalkers proved a commitment by the government to end sex trafficking, he said, vowing they would continue.

"We'll continue to cooperate with local authorities to enforce the law," Bith Kimhong said.

The new law is one of several moves by the Cambodian government over the past year to show that it is cracking down on sexual exploitation.

In March it imposed ban on foreign marriages amid concerns of an explosion in the number of brokered unions involving South Korean men and poor Cambodian women, many of whom were allegedly being set up for sex slavery.

There have also been a string of arrests of alleged foreign paedophiles, as Cambodia seeks to demonstrate sex tourists are not welcome.

Pich Socheata, deputy governor of one Phnom Penh district, leads "clean-ups" of prostitution on the streets but said she empathizes with sex workers.

"They are female and I am too, so I do understand no girls want to do that job. But we are only practising law," she said.

But Keo Tha, a staff member at sex workers' rights group the Women's Network for Unity, says many more Cambodian women are still being forced into prostitution as jobs dry up amid the global financial crisis.

A more sensible law, she said, would legalise prostitution.

"We are sandwiched right now -- we are oppressed by the police, the law and rising living costs," she said.
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Ex-Cambodian king fighting cancer

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk is fighting his third bout with cancer but is optimistic he will recover and return to his homeland from China, according to a message on his Web site.

The 86-year-old Sihanouk, in a statement dated Wednesday, said he was being treated by Chinese doctors in Beijing for lymphoma B cancer and would not return to Cambodia as planned in February.

Sihanouk, a dominant figure in Cambodian politics for six decades, abdicated in 2004, citing poor health. He was succeeded by one of his sons, Norodom Sihamoni, and has since spent much of his time in China.

In recent years, he has suffered from a number of ailments, including colon cancer, diabetes, hypertension and two strokes.

Sihanouk is also one of the world's great survivors having lived through wars, the Khmer Rouge terror and fierce political struggles beginning with his quest for independence from France in the early 1950s.

On the Web site, Sihanouk said he would return to Cambodia several months after his scheduled arrival when he was well again. He successfully battled two earlier bouts with the disease.

"In this regard, they (doctors) are optimistic," he wrote.
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

China to allow freer yuan trades

China has said it is to allow some trade with its neighbours to be settled with its currency, the yuan.

The pilot scheme was announced in a package of measures designed to help exporters hit by the global downturn.

It means if the two parties to a trade have yuan available, they need not enter world exchange markets to pay.

Most of China's foreign trade is settled in US dollars or the euro, leaving exporters vulnerable to exchange rate fluctuations.

The yuan is not yet a freely convertible currency.

Officials did not say when the trial scheme would start.

When it does, the yuan could be used to settle trade between parts of eastern China (Guangdong and the Yangtze River delta) and the territories of Hong Kong and Macau, and between south-west China (Guangxi and Yunnan) and the Asean group of countries (Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam).

Spreading yuan

Analysts told Chinese media that the yuan was already being used in some South East Asian countries and that China was happy to see such use extended.

They also agreed that the measure was intended to help companies cope with the global financial meltdown, even though buying and selling the currency requires the presentation of legitimate trade documents to banks.

The latest measure follows Beijing's announcement earlier this month of a 30-point directive in which it vowed to "support the development of yuan business in Hong Kong" and expand the use of the currency to settle trade with neighbouring countries.

Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying: "The US dollar is unlikely to be stable next year and later.

"And the likelihood of the United States issuing more money in the near future adds to the depreciation risk in US-dollar-denominated assets and trade settlements."

He also reportedly said that Guangxi, a province in southern China, had already been settling trade with Vietnam in yuan for some time.

Spurs to spend

A document released after a meeting of China's State Council on Wednesday announced more measures to stimulate domestic consumption.

These include subsidies to rural households for the purchase of household appliances and other goods, and the setting up of new stores and distribution centres in rural areas.

The document called for the renovation of urban food markets, the provision of more variety of goods on sale, the setting up of more second-hand markets, incentives for distribution companies to merge and consolidate, and support of small and medium-sized enterprises.

The state news agency Xinhua said the government intended to raise export tax rebates for high-technology products, to encourage foreign investment, extend customs and inspections services, lower inspection fee for exports and strengthen trade relations in emerging markets.

Analysts said the ideas, though vague, indicated growing concern among China's policy makers about the domestic impact of the current global financial turmoil.

Powered by exports, China's economy has grown by double digits in recent years.

In November, official figures showed a 2.2 percent drop in exports, the first decline in more than seven years.

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Businesses and entrepreneurs from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to be honoured

An awards ceremony for outstanding businesses and entrepreneurs from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam will be held on January 18, 2009, according to the Vietnam Association of Small and Medium-sized enterprises (Vinasme).

According to the organizing board, the awards will be presented to successful businesses and entrepreneurs from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam for their remarkable achievements in production, business, services and social welfare activities.

The awards will contribute to strengthening exchanges between enterprises to explore business opportunities in the three countries.

At present, more than 100 businesses and entrepreneurs have entered the contest as candidates for the award.

The event was co-organised by Vinasme, the Economics Department under the Ministry of National Defense, and the Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia economic and development association.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cambodian Supreme Court will review trade union leader’s murder

Two men convicted of the murder of trade union activist Chea Vichea in Cambodia after a seriously flawed criminal investigation and a grossly unfair trial will have their case heard by the country's Supreme Court on 31 December.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were sentenced to 20 years for Chea Vichea’s murder. However, their detention and trial were plagued with human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment and deeply flawed court proceedings that relied on unfounded and inadmissible evidence.

"The Cambodian Supreme Court must dismiss the case against both men and ensure that they are released." said Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher Brittis Edman.

The organisation has long argued that the true perpetrators of the murder remain at large. The Free Trade Union (FTU), of which Chea Vichea was President, has also repeatedly called for the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun had alibis for the time of the shooting on 22 January 2004. Instead of conducting a thorough, impartial investigation, police officers threatened and detained people who would provide these alibis, and intimidated other witnesses.

Born Samnang repeatedly stated that police beat, coerced and bribed him into making a confession. Despite this, the Municipal Court accepted the confession as a central piece of evidence on the basis of which both men were convicted.

On 1 August 2005, the Municipal Court sentenced them both to 20 years’ imprisonment for murder. On 6 April 2007, the Appeal Court upheld the decision, despite the prosecutor’s acknowledgment there was insufficient evidence.

Amnesty International has repeated its calls to the Cambodian authorities to conduct an impartial and effective investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea so that those responsible for it are brought to justice.

The organisation has also urged the authorities to initiate a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the conduct of the case - including allegations of torture or other ill-treatment by police during the initial interrogation of the two men, intimidation of witnesses and political interference with the judicial process.

Chea Vichea was murdered on 22 January 2004 after receiving a series of death threats. He was shot dead in an assassination-style killing at a news stand in central Phnom Penh. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested shortly afterwards on suspicion of his murder.

Since Chea Vichea’s death another two FTU activists have been killed in Phnom Penh. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, FTU President at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered. Thach Saveth was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his murder in a one-hour trial described by observers as grossly unfair.

On 24 February 2007, Hy Vuthy, FTU President at the Suntex factory, was shot dead. No one has been brought to justice for this killing, and by September 2008, a Phnom Penh court official told media that the investigation had been closed for lack of evidence.
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Boy named "Lucky" travels from Cambodia to Las Vegas for heart surgery

little boy named 'Lucky' is living up to his name after traveling from Cambodia to Las Vegas to have his broken heart fixed.

Dr. Michael Ciccolo performed the operation at Sunrise Children's Hospital.

"The child has a hole between the lower pumping chambers. It's important to fix significant forms of heart disease, because if you don't they will not have a normal life expectancy," he explained.

The baby's name means "Lucky" in English.

His family thinks it's fitting that he had the procedure in Las Vegas.

They couldn't afford to pay for the surgery, so it was arranged through a charitable organization called Hearts Without Boundaries.

The hospital and the doctor donated their services as part of this international effort.

"It's quite a gift, not only to the patient, but to the patient's family. So it makes us feel very proud of the fact that we're able to do this here," said Dr. Ciccolo.

Word of the surgery's success was welcome news in Cambodia and Lucky's progress has been excellent.

He should lead a normal life with no additional surgeries.

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Saving Cambodia's musical heritage


IN 1994, young Scott Stafford, was awarded special honors from the University of Chicago Music and Composition Theory Department. His honors thesis developed group theory to analyze traditional Balinese polyrhythm, drawing new parallels with Western Harmony.

Stafford, a San Rafael resident, most recently composed music and produced additional recordings for Pixar's critically acclaimed 2008 "Presto." At the time of his graduation, he had no idea his thesis would lead him down the path to helping rescue and preserve the Cambodian musical legacy.

The story of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, graphically depicted in the poignant portrayal in the book and 1984 film, "The Killing Fields," not only left an estimated 1.7 million dead, but nearly decimated the Cambodian musical legacy of thousands of years by systematically eliminating the music teachers who could pass on the country's musical heritage.

Stafford, on a family trip to the area, traveled to Siem Rep City. There, he heard a performance of the moribund music played from an ancient instrument he had seen carved in bas relief on the walls of Bayon, one of the main temples of Angkor Wat. The instrument is called the Kse Diev, meaning one string.

You pluck harmonics on it, moving it on and off one's chest.

Some of the last generation of surviving players were nearly all wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. Stafford's fascination with the music, along with his training, impelled him to quench his curiosity as to the music's current status, leading him to the discovery of the fragile nature of its existence.

He quickly found that precious little of it had ever been recorded.

Stafford raised funds to found Studio CLA (Cambodia Living Arts), a nonprofit ethnographic audio visual production studio with the goal of archiving Cambodia's endangered musical traditions, training local engineers in audio and visual production arts, and providing a laboratory for new creative and collaborative works.

CLA has now has four self-produced CD's for sale in Cambodia. The recent underground documentary, "Sleepwalking through the Mekong," is based on a Los Angeles and Long Beach band's pilgrimage to Cambodia to record in Stafford's studio and to collaborate with traditional CLA artists.

Stafford has plenty of in-country support for the collaborative project.

Most noteworthy are Arn Chorn-Pond and Sophy Him, whom he met in February 2002, during his first trip to Cambodia.

Arn Chorn, by playing revolutionary songs on the flute, survived the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime that turned him into a child soldier.

Today, he is an internationally recognized human rights leader, a recipient among other honors, of the Anne Frank Memorial Award and is the subject of the award winning documentary: "The Flute Player."

Sophy Him, a composer, is a professor of music and fine arts at the Royal Academy of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

Stafford, in support of Him's work, has been part of the creative team supplying additional music and direction for "Where Elephants Weep," the first-known contemporary Cambodian rock opera with a mission to stir young Cambodians to honor their heritage within the context of the changing global society and to inspire them to learn more about Cambodia's performing living arts.

The opera had its world premiere in Cambodia this year. To learn more about the music and CLA's mission, visit

Noah Griffin of Tiburon is a public affairs consultant and a former citizen member of the IJ's editorial board.
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36 Hours in Siem Reap, Cambodia


AS captivating as the temples of Angkor may be, Cambodia’s scorching sun, gritty air and pot-holed roads inevitably take their toll on even the hardiest travelers. Perhaps it’s by necessity, then, that Siem Reap, the town that lodges and feeds Angkor’s million annual visitors, has evolved into a chic haven of rest and relaxation. An international group of chefs has set up the country’s finest tables there, and bartenders in the vibrant night life are versed in sophisticated cocktails. Contemporary art has also found itself a home, with a gallery scene intent on nurturing local artists. It’s as though Siem Reap is finally picking up where the Angkorian kings left off some 600 years ago, resurrecting itself as the center of Khmer taste and culture.


5 p.m.

With Angkor Wat’s inspiring beauty just five miles away, it’s not hard to see why Siem Reap is at the heart of Cambodia’s flourishing art scene. Galleries are popping up in renovated shop houses, and hotels now exhibit the work of young Khmers and regional expats. Art Venues, a free brochure available in upmarket hotels, maps out walking tours to the town’s best spots. McDermott Gallery (FCC Complex, Pokambor Avenue; 855-12-274-274;, known for its emotive, dreamlike photographs of Angkor, takes Asia’s cultural heritage as its curatorial focus. At the Arts Lounge inside the fashionable Hôtel de la Paix (Sivatha Boulevard; 855-63-966-000;, contemporary works fill the minimalist space, where well-heeled guests sip designer cocktails like the Oolong Kiwi Sling, made with tea and vodka.

7 p.m.

Cambodian cooking doesn’t get the attention it deserves, especially compared with the fare of its food-trendy neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. Though the basic ingredients are similar — lemongrass, garlic, ginger, fish sauce — Khmer cooking is subtler and lighter, employing less chili, pungent herbs and coconut milk. For an innovative lesson on local flavors, sample the seven-course Khmer tasting menu ($31) at Méric, a dimly lighted Art Deco-themed restaurant, also at the Hótel de la Paix (note: dollars are widely accepted in Siem Reap). Dishes, which change daily, might include chicken and pumpkin saraman (a type of Khmer curry) and stir-fried frog’s legs with holy basil served in hollowed-out bamboo reeds and miniature woks. To heighten the experience, dine on one of Méric’s hanging cushioned daybeds, which swing alongside a flame-lighted pool.

9 p.m.

Prolong the post-dinner buzz with a pre-slumber rubdown at Frangipani Spa (617/615 Hup Guan Street; 855-12-982-062; With modern art on the walls and fresh orchids in vases, the spa feels like the plush digs of a fashionable friend’s home. Sink into the low sofa as you sip tamarind juice while your feet are bathed in a frangipani-filled tub, the prep to a glorious 60-minute massage (from $22).

5 a.m.

It might be brutal, but it’s worth getting up this early to experience the famous Buddhist temples of Angkor Archaeological Park (admission, $20), the 155-square-mile area that counts Angkor Wat among its more than 100 temples. Less crowded at this hour is the ninth-century Phnom Bakheng, a five-tiered, rectangular temple built on a hill. The few lotus-shaped towers that remain are testament to the 108 that once stood. You’ll have to work for the view: it’s a 15-minute hike up to the sandstone terrace, which overlooks an endless expanse of jungle and mist-shrouded hills. It’s a mesmerizing spot from which to watch the sun paint the sky in blues and oranges.

11 a.m.

It’s on an idyllic country road lined with stilt houses and lush, neon-green rice fields, but the Cambodia Landmine Museum (20 miles northeast of Siem Reap on the road to Banteay Srei; 855-12-598-951; is a jarring reminder of the country’s three decades of war. Established by a former Khmer Rouge child soldier named Aki Ra, the museum provides a detailed account of Cambodia’s political and social upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge insurgency, which ended only 10 years ago. Efforts to clear unexploded ordnance and millions of land mines have been made since the 1990s, yet it’s estimated that fewer than half have been cleared. Mr. Aki Ra has deactivated about 50,000 of them; many are on view.

12:30 p.m.

Cambodia’s heat and intensity demand long, replenishing lunches. Only a Frenchman could dream up Chez Sophéa (across from Angkor Wat; 855-12-858-003), an open-air restaurant with wooden tables and white linens that serves rillettes de canard, charcoal-grilled steaks and crème de chocolat — all next door to the temples. The owner, Matthieu Ravaux, lives on the premises, so you’re technically eating in his dining room. Set menu for $18.

4 p.m.

After a lunch-induced nap, it’s time to put your dollars to good use at some of Siem Reap’s community-friendly shops. In the center of town, Senteurs d’Angkor (Pithnou Street; 855-63-964-801; sells spices, coffee and bath products, wrapped in palm-leaf packages. For flirty frocks and custom-made quilts, try Samatoa (Pithnou Street; 855-63-96-53-10;, a fair-trade label that specializes in silk. The hand-painted cards and cute canvas bags at Rajana (Pub Street; 855-12-481-894; are produced by Cambodians down on their luck.

7 p.m.

There’s no need to reserve a table at Restaurant Pyongyang (4 Airport Road; 855-63-760-260) — it seats over 400. Besides, it would be anti-Communist. Every evening, between servings of fantastic bulgogi ($8.70) and bibimbap ($6), pretty North Korean waitresses in short red dresses put on elaborate song and dance routines. Though the tile floors and faux-wood paneling aren’t exactly impressive, the cultural pageantry is. With a karaoke screen displaying waterfalls and snow-capped mountains, the girls perform peppy propaganda tunes to a compliant and clapping audience.

10 p.m.

With a name like Pub Street, you won’t have any trouble finding Siem Reap’s prime night-life drag. But if beer girls, big-screen TVs and $3 pitchers aren’t your style, head a block north to Miss Wong (the Lane; 855-92-428-332) for a taste of vintage Shanghai. The cherry-red lantern that dangles from the doorway beckons passers-by. Inside, slip into one of the intimate leather booths for an Indochine Martini, a mixture of vodka, ginger cognac and fresh pineapple juice ($4.50). For dance beats and late-night snacks, take the party two blocks to trendy Linga Bar (the Passage; 855-12-246-912;, a mixed, gay-friendly lounge with killer mojitos.


7:30 a.m.

Early morning is social hour for Khmers, with men filling outdoor cafes to sip iced coffee and women gathering at local markets to shop and eat breakfast. At Psar Chaa, or Old Market, the butchers and produce sellers will be in full force, peddling dried fish, fruit stacked in neat pyramids, and freshly pounded kroeung (an herbal paste used in many dishes). Pull up a plastic stool at one of the food counters and order a bowl of baay sac chruuk — superthin pieces of grilled pork served with white rice and a tangy cucumber and ginger salad (about 5,000 riel, $1.27, at 4,029 riel to the dollar).

11 a.m.

Until a few years ago, tough road conditions meant that only the bravest travelers ventured to Beng Mealea (45 miles from Siem Reap on the road to Koh Ker), a sprawling sandstone temple that has been nearly consumed by the jungle. But a new route replaced the single-plank bridges and motorbike-only track, cutting the travel time from a half-day to just under an hour by car. Built in the 12th century, this forgotten sanctuary is nearly as big as Angkor Wat but gets a fraction of the visitors. The destruction is breathtaking: towers reduced to tall mounds of rubble, thick webs of tree roots snaking through the walls, and faceless carvings, their heads cut out and sold. Still, the place has seen worse: until 2003, the surrounding grounds were littered with land mines. Now it’s ripe for a fresh start.


Flights to Siem Reap from the United States require a plane change. A recent online search found an Asiana Airlines flight from Kennedy Airport to Siem Reap, via Seoul, starting at $1,200 for travel in January. From Siem Reap Airport, it’s a $5 taxi ride into town.
The Khmer-chic rooms at La Résidence d’Angkor (River Road; 855-63-963-390; have hardwood floors, silk and bamboo accents and giant whirlpool tubs. Rooms start at $175.

With its minimalist aesthetic, neutral palette and saltwater pool, the seven-room Viroth’s Hotel (0658 Wat Bo Village; 855-63-761-720; provides a welcome respite from temple overload. Rooms from $80.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cambodia lacks funds for wildlife network

Written by Christopher Shay

AN increase in the number of wildlife seizures in Southeast Asia attests to the success of the region's collaborative approach to stamping out the black market wildlife trade, according to a press release from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (Asean-WEN).

Cambodia, however, is still largely left out of this approach, as it lacks the funding to fully participate in the anti-wildlife trafficking group.

Asean-WEN, of which Cambodia is a member, is a network of law enforcement agencies seeking to improve communication between various government authorities in the 10-member bloc.

Sharing is caring
Suon Sovann, deputy chief of the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting Unit at the Foresty Administration, told the Post on Monday:
"Wildlife crime is not a Cambodian issue. It's a global issue. We need funds so we can share information about wildlife crime."

In order to abolish the illegal wildlife trade, governments have to address both the supply and demand sides. This involves many different branches of government in multiple countries, said Mark Gately, the country program director at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"Improved communications between Southeast Asian countries means that if reports are made of wildlife leaving Cambodia illegally, authorities in the neighboring countries can be alerted," a Wildlife Alliance spokesperson said Monday.

"At present, animals can be rescued within Cambodia, but once they cross the border, nothing can be done."

Teak Seng, country director of the the global conservation group WWF, said: "One specific country cannot be effective at curtailing wildlife trade. It requires international cooperation."
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Amnesty Urges Cambodia To Free Alleged Killers Of Union Boss

PHNOM PENH (AFP)--Rights group Amnesty International Tuesday called on Cambodia's highest court to release two alleged killers of the country's labor leader, saying the true perpetrators remain at large.

Chea Vichea, who headed the country's largest labor union and was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand in January 2004.

The daylight murder shocked the country and was condemned by Cambodian and international rights groups as a brutal attempt to silence the opposition-linked workers' group.
Just days after the killing, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested, convicted of murder and quickly sentenced to 20 years each in prison. They will make their final appeal at the Supreme Court next week.

"Amnesty International calls on the Supreme Court to dismiss the case against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, and ensure that they are released without delay and their names cleared," the watchdog said in a statement.

The group said it "believes that the true perpetrators of the murder remain at large, while Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have spent almost five years in prison after a seriously flawed criminal investigation and a grossly unfair trial."

The pair denied any involvement in the killing and have fought their convictions. Former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who led the investigation, also has admitted that the two didn't kill Chea Vichea.

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Thai cabinet line-up could anger Thaksin's allies

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Thailand's king approved a new cabinet yesterday but political turmoil could persist as many of its members supported the protests that paralysed air transport and government.

The high-profile positions taken by protest backers could spur demonstrations by supporters of the administration ousted this month by the courts. Supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister linked to that administration, demonstrated violently outside parliament last week when the new government, led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, was voted into power.

While Mr Abhisit offered support for the People's Alliance for Democracy, the group that occupied the prime minister's office in August and Bangkok's two airports in November, Kasit Piromya, his new foreign minister, was more active. The PAD's protests cost the economy at least $2.8bn.

Mr Kasit, a regular speaker at PAD rallies, once described the airports occupation as a "new innovation for public protests".

Last week Mr Kasit told the Financial Times: "This was a protest against an elected government that had become abusive and corrupted. The PAD was part of the whole democratic process. People should be happy that for once the military wasn't involved."

Mr Kasit had earlier taken a hard line on the border dispute with Cambodia, which centres on an ancient temple and led to low-level skirmishes this year. The PAD rallied anti-government support by saying ministers gave Cambodia too much leeway because of alleged business interests of Mr Thaksin across the border.

In the interview, Mr Kasit was more conciliatory, saying Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister, had been the first foreign leader to congratulate Mr Abhisit on his win. "I think this is a great sign of friendship," he said. "We have a common heritage; we have to use that to bring us together," he said.

Thailand holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Mr Kasit said he was hoping to reengage Burma in dialogue.

"We will talk across the board on all issues," he said. Asean last week adopted a new charter which calls for a regional human rights body. Burma's human rights record will pose one of the biggest challenges to the new charter but Mr Kasit said human rights would be high on the agenda.
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Mixed future for Cambodia's MFIs

AMK chief Paul Luchtenburg talks to the Post

How has the global financial crisis impacted microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Cambodia?
The financial crisis has affected all MFIs in two ways. First, [there are] less funds available from lenders. Second, [there] is less money flowing around in the country. It means less funds and people will be less able to pay back their loans.

How long do you think the crisis will continue to affect the MFI sector in Cambodia?
That's hard to say. Some people say there will be only short-term minimal impact. Others ask what will happen next.
I would like to think that things will stabilise next year.

What about short-term future lending?
Our mission is to help as many people as possible. But we have fewer funds, so that means less lending.

Do you anticipate any change in interest rates on current loans?
We are committed to keeping interest rates as low as we can. The challenge is that AMK works in remote areas, where we have to send staff to make sure the poor are properly receiving our services. Our interest rates are higher because of these remote services.




Have AMK's profits suffered as a result of the crisis?
We cover our costs, even despite the current crisis, and we still have funds available for lending. The challenge on our side is to improve the system so poor people in need of financing can get the funds they require more rapidly.

Do you see greater risk of default among your clients because of the global crisis?
Our client portfolio is among the best in the world. We have had very few problems.

How much does AMK lend per year?
Our portfolio has grown from US$10 million last year to $22 million so far in 2008. We have put some $72 million into Cambodia's economy in the last three years. I think MFIs are strengthening the economy because lenders come back for more loans.

In what ways does AMK help reduce poverty?
This is hard to quantify. We are currently doing a study to assess this, which will come out next year and which compares our clients with others who don't currently use our services. But I will always believe that microfinance takes the highest view of people's potential than any other development-based initiative.

What responsibilities remain for the Ministry of Rural Development to reduce poverty?
Cambodia's poorest provinces, such as Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and Stung Treng, need infrastructure. They need roads, houses and greater access to education.

Has the crisis affected AMK's ability to get continue to secure outside funding?
I think we've seen a 25 percent drop. This is an estimation. We have projected a 40 percent drop in 2009.

Are you concerned by recent growth predictions from the World Bank and others that show lower GDP next year?
It is a concern because we could see problems with repayment. So, we have to be careful in assessing potential clients' ability to repay.
But we are facing more difficult times, and more people will need our help. We just need to make sure the best candidates are the ones receiving loans.

What do you think the MFI sector will look like two or three years on?
I think 2009 will be an interesting year. We have some new players entering the sector. I think the slowdown will continue, but the way we react will set the tone for 2010. But I believe that AMK will continue to remain stable.

With the slowdown likely to continue, how do you explain the rise in new commercial banks?
Cambodia is an emerging market, and we have seen a lot of interest in the banking sector. New banking requirements relating to capitalisation have opened up new possibilities for niche markets. Will some of them be forced to close down? It's hard to say. Some could refocus on mortgages, others could focus on other things. That's the good thing about competition. It makes every organisation better. There is no room for sloppiness in Cambodia. This, in turn, has created a very dynamic environment for microfinance.

Have you thought of turning AMK into a specialised bank?
With the NBC regulations, it is too expensive for us. ... But we want to start collecting savings independent from investors or creditors.

Fixed Deposit Interest Rate of 10 Banks (5 December 2008)
3 Months 6 Months 12 Months
USD Riel USD Riel USD Riel

ACLEDA 5.50% 6.00% 6.50% 8.00% 7.50% 9.50%
ANZ Royal 4.55% 4.60% 5.25% 5.55% 5.40% 6.70%
Canadia 5.00% 5.00% 6.00% 6.00% 7.00% 7.00%
Cambodia Comercial Bank 3.00% 3.00% 3.25% 3.25% 3.25% 3.25%
Vattanac Bank 4.25% N/A 5.25% N/A 6.00% N/A
SBC Bank 3.00% N/A 3.50% N/A 4.50% N/A
Cambodia Asia Bank 5.50% N/A 6.50% N/A 7.50% N/A
Cambodia Mekong Bank 2.50% N/A 3.25% N/A 3.50% N/A
May Bank 2.00% N/A 2.50% N/A 3.25% N/A
Cambodia Public Bank 5.25% N/A 6.25% N/A 7.25% N/A
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