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Monday, March 31, 2008

Struggling Asians go unnoticed

Poor grades lumped in with standout students

If her native tongue was one commonly spoken in the U.S. instead of the less familiar Khmer, Thana Ouk might have more help at school.

She would have access to classes in her language and programs attuned to her cultural heritage. Her mother, who speaks no English, would be better able to communicate with teachers.

But Thana, a junior at Roosevelt High School, is Cambodian and can find few services tailored to her needs. Instead, she falls under the broad umbrella of "Asian" for public school funding and testing purposes.

Because many families of Asian heritage are well-educated and have comparative material advantages, and because students in the broad Asian category often perform as well as or better than white students on standardized tests, resources are scarce for Asians who are struggling in public schools.

But Thana is struggling with her schoolwork, especially reading. Her four older siblings never graduated from high school, and now the 17-year-old is fighting to avoid the same fate.

"I've been here, like, ever since I was born, but I'm not really fluent with language," said Thana, a slight girl with black hair and plastic frame glasses. "Sometimes I'll be reading a story or something in the book, and then I'll somehow get lost in the wording."

Some educators have begun to call disadvantaged Asians an invisible minority, unseen because their low test scores are masked when lumped with higher achieving counterparts.

These students, often from Southeast Asia, go unnoticed for other reasons too. Their numbers are small. There's a dearth of bilingual programs in their languages, counselors fluent in Asian languages and culture and advocates in general. Few schools can communicate with their parents who don't speak English.

At an Illinois State Board of Educationmeeting this year, several activists urged the state to report Asian achievement scores by specific ethnicity instead of lumping them together.

"Why not separate them so that everyone can use [the data] to help their own people?" asked Juanita Salvador-Burris, who argued at the meeting in Chicago. Many Southeast Asians, in particular, arrive as refugees from war-torn countries, and their children struggle with poverty and language—challenges not always shared by other Asian ethnicities.

"These kids need the same kind of supports that other groups . . . receive—extensive academic, remedial and socio-emotional support," said Sally Ewing, a former principal at Passages Charter School, which is run by Asian Human Services, a social services agency serving Chicago's pan-Asian community. "When you talk about funding grants . . . we have to be much more powerful in our case because there is this myth that Asians are doing very well."

A 2002 U.S. Department of Education study—one of the rare national reports examining Asians by ethnicity—found that Southeast Asians, including Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong have reading and math scores comparable with Latino and African-American students.

California, home to about one-third of the country's Asian population, is one of the few states where the public school system separates Asian students' test scores by ethnicity. For all 8th grade Asians, 64 percent are passing in English, a rate higher than whites across the state. Cambodians and Laotians, however, are passing at a 30 percent rate.

"We have students, sometimes ages 15 to 16, who come from refugee camps [and] have never held a pencil or opened a book," said Richard Norman, principal at Senn High School on Chicago's North Side. "They struggle just like any of the other minorities in the school."

But some argue that because of what they call the "model minority myth"—a belief that all Asians excel in academics—those who struggle do not receive the same attention as African-American or Hispanic students.

"There are also a lot of outside organizations that work to help improve [African-American and Hispanic] scores," said Alvin Yu, a director at the Chinese Mutual Aid Association in Chicago. "There are fewer working toward those ends for Asians, partially because of this perception."

Southeast Asian populations in many school districts are relatively small. Asians make up only 3 percent of the student population in Chicago Public Schools.

"There's a bigger challenge when it's a very small group and not as well-established a community from which to draw either teachers or assistants," said Ross Wiener, policy director at the Education Trust, a reform think tank in Washington, D.C.

Of the nearly 30,000 Southeast Asians in the six-county area, most are concentrated in Chicago, primarily the North Side neighborhoods of Albany Park and Uptown.

In Ouk's case, her mother, Tha, came from a family of farmers in Cambodia and had no education. During the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979, much of the educated class was exterminated. Tha Ouk fled with her family in 1978 and spent the next seven years in refugee camps before securing visas to the U.S.

Now she lives in a small Albany Park apartment with four of her grandchildren and Thana, subsisting on a mix of public assistance and what help her older children can provide. At home, Thana speaks in Khmer, though she mixes in some English with her nieces and nephews, who are half-Cambodian and half-Puerto Rican.

After school, Thana spends most days at the Cambodian Association of Illinois, a newly renovated community center on the North Side. There, she attends workshops, teaches traditional Cambodian dance and receives tutoring. She says she feels uncomfortable getting help elsewhere.

"When you ask [a] question, [teachers] look at you like, 'What? You're asking me the question? Aren't you supposed to be the smart one?' " she said with a plaintive smile. "I was like, 'No. . . . I'm the same as everybody else. I don't see why you're looking at me that way.' "
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Cooperation in Mekong region yields success

Is Cambodia in the fast track of better or disaster? well Cambodia today is in the fast track of disaster. The Hun xen government did nothing to improve the lives of million Cambodians. The government officials are richer and fater from robbing land from the poors and cutting trees and stealing all kind of natural resources.

By Zhai Kun (China Daily)

Premier Wen Jiabao is in Laos attending the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) summit which ends today.

Since the GMS was launched by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1992, the five countries in the region, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, have all been put on the fast track of growth.

In this process, China has played an active role in enhancing economic regional cooperation. Besides, it has also integrated the cooperation with its domestic strategy of developing Southwest China, which lies in the upper reaches of the Mekong River, called the Lancang River. Thus, a balanced economic development is being nurtured in the greater Mekong area.

The regional cooperation is playing a vital role in promoting comprehensive development of the subregion.

The Mekong River flows through six nations, including China. Its basin covers 2.56 million sq km with a population of 320 million. With vast forests and rich underground resources, the basin boasts one of the best biological reserves in Asia.

The ADB launched the GMS in 1992, aimed at poverty eradication, and all Mekong nations have since been involved in the common initiative of economic development. It was under such a backdrop that the concept of "Greater Mekong Subregion" took shape.

Following the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took the lead in promoting regional cooperation, to which China actively responded by stepping up its cooperation with the Mekong River nations.

Countries in the Mekong subregion today have achieved political peace, social stability, and economic gains.

Regional cooperation within the GMS framework has seen advances in transportation, telecommunications, trade, tourism, and agriculture.

Take transportation as an example. After the Trans-Asian Railway was completed, the key cities in the region, Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane, all started direct flights to their capitals as well as construction of their ports. A transportation network linking water, land and air will play an increasingly important role in the region, and Asia as a whole.

Two criss-crossing corridors have just been completed in the region. The "north-south corridor" - a 2,000-km highway linking Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, and the Thai capital city of Bangkok via Laos, and the "east-west corridor" - a 1,500-km highway stretching from Vietnam's Da Nang through Laos and Thailand to Myanmar, will serve as vital transportation arteries in the region.

The countries in the Mekong River basin have deepened their opening up to each other, nurtured closer ties with the rest of Asia, and the world. Their efforts in recent years are paying off. The per capita annul income was $1,100 in 2006 compared to $630 in 1992.

The development momentum of the region has also attracted the attention of other countries.

The relationship between the United States and the Mekong River nations has improved, especially that between the US and Vietnam. Nguyen Minh Triet, the Vietnamese President, visited the US last year, the first visit by a Vietnamese state head to the US in the 32 years following the end of the Vietnam War.

Japan has also been paying more attention to its diplomatic ties with the Mekong River countries. The current Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has designated this year as one of exchange between Japan and nations of the Mekong region. Japan hosted a ministerial meeting in Tokyo with the foreign ministers of the five Mekong region countries in January.

More multinational companies headquartered in the US or Japan are looking to invest in the Mekong region.

It is viewed as the gateway to the east by India. And the link between the Mekong River and the Ganges River is seen as a "natural pivot to advance eastward".

In September last year, Australia published a strategic report on promoting cooperation and integration in the Greater Mekong Subregion, calling the region essential to Australia's interests. The report suggested the Australian government donate A$50 million each year for the next 10 years to countries in the Mekong region.

Many international and non-government organizations have also placed the Mekong subregion higher on their agendas.

It is clear the Mekong subregion is seeing an integration of multiple interests. It would help if more countries reach an understanding about their own roles in aiding the region.

There are several areas in which these countries can help.

The first is biological protection, tapping and protecting water resources. Second, disease prevention, like bird flu, AIDS and encephalitis B.

Other areas include cooperation in fighting terrorism, easing the shortage of manpower, and bridging development disparity in the five countries.

China has developed sound relations with countries of the subregion, an example of China's policy of promoting harmony with its neighbors.

On Friday, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Finance released a report through the People's Daily. In the report, the ministerial departments gave a detailed statement about China's economic and trade ties with the Mekong River countries, its role in promoting regional cooperation, and its plans for participating in regional cooperation in the near future.

The author is director for Southeast Asian and Oceanic Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

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Cambodia: Infamous Grenade Attack Still Unpunished

FBI Should Revive Probe of Alleged Perpetrators Promoted by Hun Sen

(New York, March 30, 2008) – The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) should reopen its long-stalled investigation into the grisly grenade attack on an opposition party rally in Phnom Penh 11 years ago that left at least 16 dead and more than 150 injured, Human Rights Watch said today. The FBI investigation, which made significant progress in 1997, has been effectively abandoned.

On March 30, 1997, a crowd of approximately 200 supporters of the opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP), led by former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy, gathered in a park across the street from the National Assembly to denounce the judiciary’s corruption and lack of independence. In a well-planned attack, four grenades were thrown into the crowd, killing protesters and bystanders, including children, and tearing limbs off street vendors. The grenade attack made headlines and provoked outrage around the world. On June 29, 1997, the Washington Post wrote:

“In a classified report that could pose some awkward problems for U.S. policymakers, the FBI tentatively has pinned responsibility for the blasts, and the subsequent interference, on personal bodyguard forces employed by Hun Sen, one of Cambodia’s two prime ministers, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with its contents. The preliminary report was based on a two-month investigation by FBI agents sent here under a federal law giving the bureau jurisdiction whenever a U.S. citizen is injured by terrorism. ... The bureau says its investigation is continuing, but the agents involved reportedly have complained that additional informants here are too frightened to come forward.”

“The FBI was close to solving the case when its lead investigator was suddenly ordered out of the country by the US ambassador, Kenneth Quinn,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The FBI has damning evidence in its files that suggests that Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the attack, but it has refused to fully cooperate with congressional inquiries or follow through on its initial investigation. Instead of trying to protect US relations with Cambodia, it should now finish what it started.”

The FBI investigated the attack because Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured in the blast, which the United States at the time deemed to be an “act of terrorism.” Abney had to be evacuated to Singapore to treat shrapnel wounds in his hip.

Instead of launching a serious investigation, then co-Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the demonstration’s organizers should be arrested and instructed police not to allow them to leave the country. (To read an Agence France-Presse account published at the time, please visit:

On the day of the attack, Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit, Brigade-70 (B-70), was, for the first time, deployed at a demonstration. Photographs show them in full riot gear. The police, which had in the past maintained a high-profile presence at opposition demonstrations to discourage public participation, had an unusually low profile on that day. Officers were grouped around the corner from the park, having been ordered to stay away from the park itself. Also for the first time, the KNP had received official permission from both the Ministry of the Interior and the Phnom Penh municipality to hold a demonstration, fuelling speculation that the demonstration was authorized so it could be attacked.

Numerous eyewitnesses reported that the persons who had thrown the grenades were seen running toward Hun Sen’s bodyguards, who were deployed in a line at the west end of the park near the guarded residential compound containing the homes of many senior Cambodia People’s Party leaders. Witnesses told United Nations and FBI investigators that the bodyguard line opened to allow the grenade-throwers to escape into the compound. Meanwhile, people in the crowd pursuing the grenade-throwers were stopped by the bodyguards at gunpoint and told they would be shot if they did not retreat.

“This brazen attack, carried out in broad daylight, ingrained impunity more than any other single act in recent Cambodian history,” said Adams. “But that appears to have been one of its purposes – to send the message that opposition supporters can be murdered without ever facing justice.”

In a June 1997 interview with the Phnom Penh Post, Hing Bun Heang, deputy commander of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and operationally in charge of the bodyguards at the park on March 30, 1997, threatened to kill journalists who alleged that Hun Sen’s bodyguards were involved. Hing Bun Heang has since been promoted as deputy director of Hun Sen’s cabinet and, in September 2006, appointed as supreme consultant to Cambodia’s Senior Monk Assembly and assistant to Supreme Patriachs Tep Vong and Bou Kry.

The bodyguard unit B-70 remains notorious in Cambodia for violence, corruption, and the impunity it enjoys as the de facto private army of Hun Sen. According to a 2007 report by the nongovernmental organization Global Witness, “The elite Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 unit makes between US$2 million and US$2.5 million per year through transporting illegally logged timber and smuggled goods. A large slice of the profits generated through these activities goes to Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit.”

In one notorious case in 2006, two soldiers from B-70 shot a Phnom Penh beer promotion girl in the foot for being too slow to bring them ice. They were arrested by military police, but released hours later by their commander. A representative of the commander said the victim would be paid $500 compensation by B-70, but no criminal investigation or prosecution ensued.

“Instead of investigating the senior officer in charge of the bodyguard unit implicated in the 1997 grenade attack and who threatened to kill journalists reporting on it, Hun Sen has promoted him,” said Adams. “Apparently, Hun Sen considers such a person qualified for a senior position in the country’s official Buddhist hierarchy.”

Given the serious and credible allegations of the involvement of the Cambodian military in the grenade attack, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the United States has increased military assistance and training to the Cambodian military before it completed its investigation into the 1997 attack.

Human Rights Watch called on the US to ensure that it is not providing any assistance or training to current or former members of B-70 or other Cambodian special military units with records of human rights abuse. In an effort to solidify counterterrorism cooperation, the FBI in 2006 awarded a medal to the Cambodian Chief of National Police Hok Lundy for his support in the US “global war on terror.” Hok Lundy was chief of the national police at the time of the grenade attack and has long been linked to political violence.

“No credible explanation has ever been offered for the deployment or behavior of Hun Sen’s bodyguards on March 30, 1997,” said Adams. “Their actions may reach the highest levels of the Cambodian government, yet the FBI investigation has been dropped. The fact that the US is providing military assistance instead of investigating the grenade attack shows that it is effectively complicit with the Cambodian government in abandoning any hope for justice for the victims of this horrific attack.”
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Cambodia, Laos sign MOU of border crossing pass, transportation

PHNOM PENH, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia and Laos have signed a Memorandum of Understanding of border crossing pass and transportation while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen paid a visitin Laos, Cambodian Commerce Minster Cham Prasidh said here on Monday.

The MOU was signed by Hor Namhong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, with his Lao counterpart, Cham Prasidh told reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport after returning from Laos.

This MOU is very important for people of both sides because it allows them to be able to cross the border between the two countries with a border crossing pass for a limited period of time and they could make business, Cham Prasidh said.

Another MOU of transportation, which allows a limited number of vehicles of both sides to cross border, was signed by Cambodian Minister of Public Works and Transportation Sun Chanthol and his Lao counterpart, he added.

He said that Cambodia and Laos will also strengthen bilateral ties and traditional and friendly cooperation for a long term.

Hun Sen left here on Friday for Laos to conduct an official visit there and attend the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit on March 30-31.

His delegation includes Hor Namhong, Cham Prasidh and other senior officials.
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