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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cambodian PM: CPP boasts strong basis to win election

The major ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) boasts strong basis to win the next general election in July, said Prime Minister Hun Sen in an exclusive interview with English-Khmer language newspaper the Mekong Times Wednesday.

"CPP began building its support base in 1993 with the winning of 51 seats at the National Assembly (NA), then 64 seats in 1998 and 73 (out of 123) seats in 2003. This basis is the foundation of (CPP's) support when it faces difficulties," he said.

Meanwhile, in the current third mandate government, (Cambodia) achieved double-digit economic growth, poverty has been reduced, and people's living conditions and the physical infrastructure has improved, he said.

These (achievements) will attract people in the upcoming election, said Hun Sen, also vice president of CPP.

The July 27 parliamentary election is to establish the fourth government of the kingdom. Altogether 11 parties have been approved to vie for the 123 seats in NA.

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Cambodia: Release Jailed Editor

Journalists and Opposition Members Under Attack as Elections Near

(London, June 11, 2008) – The Cambodian government should release a jailed opposition newspaper editor and candidate, and end its intimidation of journalists and opposition party candidates in the lead-up to National Assembly elections in July, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today.

On June 8, military police arrested newspaper editor Dam Sith, 39, who is also running as a candidate for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), after his newspaper published allegations about the current foreign minister.

“Dam Sith’s arrest demonstrates how the criminal justice system is used and abused to silence government critics,” said Brittis Edman, researcher for Amnesty International. “His arrest sends a message of fear to journalists and other media workers in the lead-up to national elections next month.”

Dam Sith’s newspaper, Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience), quoted allegations by opposition leader Sam Rainsy over the role of the current minister of foreign affairs, Hor Namhong, during the period of Khmer Rouge rule from 1975-1979. Hor Namhong filed a criminal complaint against Dam Sith for disinformation, defamation and libel under Cambodia’s 1992 penal code. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International believe that public officials who consider themselves defamed should not seek redress through the criminal law in order to protect their reputation.

Moneaksekar Khmer is one of the few newspapers in Cambodia that is not affiliated with the government or the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which also controls all television and most radio stations.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said that the arrest of Dam Sith is part of a pattern of intimidation by the government against opposition and independent media in the run-up to the July elections. On May 21, Hun Sen threatened the independent Beehive radio station for running programming from opposition parties, stating: “You have one channel; we have 39 channels. If you curse me, you will receive bad merit. Those who [previously] cursed me already disappeared from the world.”

On May 28, the government shut down independent radio station Angkor Ratha (FM 105.25) in Kratie province. The station, whose headquarters is in Siem Reap province, was granted a license to broadcast in January 2008. The Ministry of Information abruptly cancelled the license for the station’s Kratie broadcasts after it sold air time to opposition parties.

“There’s little room for critical or opposition journalists in Cambodia, and those who express dissent risk harassment, intimidation and, at times, imprisonment,” said Sara Colm, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian authorities to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression, allowing journalists to report news and express opinions about politics without retribution.

Dam Sith, who is running as an opposition candidate in the capital Phnom Penh, was arrested in the midst of an intense campaign by the ruling CPP to induce opposition members to join the CPP and punish those who refuse. In March 2008, police arrested and detained local opposition SRP leader Tuot Saron in Kampong Thom. Tuot Saron is still detained and faces charges of illegal confinement after seeking to assist a distressed former party colleague following her alleged defection to the CPP under controversial circumstances. The court issued arrest warrants against three other local SRP leaders, who avoided arrest and remain in hiding.

“Arrests and other politically motivated legal actions are being used to intimidate, coerce and silence opposition members and journalists,” said Colm. “With elections pending, it’s crucial that Cambodians are able to receive information from a variety of news sources, and that opposition candidates are able to campaign without fear of reprisals.”

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Cambodian Constitution and enshrined in international human rights law. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Cambodia is obliged to promote and protect these rights and ensure that people can fully enjoy them.

The 1995 Press Law provides for some protection of journalists, but is rarely used. Instead, the so-called 1992 UNTAC Law, Cambodia’s current penal code, is used in most legal cases against journalists or media representatives. These cases often violate the right to freedom of expression.

Dam Sith has been charged with violating articles 62 and 63 of the UNTAC Law. Article 62 criminalizes the publication, distribution or reproduction of false information that “has disturbed or is likely to disturb the public peace.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch consider the provision to be too vague and sweeping, enabling the government to intimidate and prosecute those who are exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Article 63 provides that allegations against public figures “which the author, the journalist, editor, or producer knows to be false” may constitute defamation. The article does not carry a custodial sentence. This article also restricts the right to freedom of expression in violation of international law and standards.

“It is time for Cambodia to repeal provisions in its laws that allow individuals, including journalists, to be criminally prosecuted for peaceful speech,” said Edman. .
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Tackling Cambodia's landmine legacy

By Philippa Fogarty

On a wooded hillside above a village in north-west Cambodia, a man speaks into a radio.

Figures in body armour and visors head downhill to shelter from the sun under some trees.

A whistle sounds and then a siren. A few minutes later a loud crack echoes around the countryside. Grey smoke floats into the air.

The first landmine of the morning has been destroyed.

It was a Chinese-made type 72A - a small, green object that blows off the leg that treads on it or the arm that picks it up.

The team head back up the hill. There are many more mines to go.

This is a scene that is repeated day after day across Cambodia, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

Between four and six million landmines are thought to have been laid during the country's three decades of civil war.

Khmer Rouge fighters, Vietnamese troops and government forces all planted devices, but did not record where or how many. Huge areas of land were contaminated, particularly in western border regions where the fighting was fiercest.

Across the country, victims of landmine blasts are a strikingly visible presence. More than 40,000 people are thought to have lost limbs.

Work to remove the mines has been going on ever since the conflict ended, and a great deal of progress has been made. But there is a lot still to do.

"Cambodia still has a significant landmine problem," says Rupert Leighton, Cambodia country director of the Mines Advisory Group. "They are not starting to dry up yet."

Casualties have fallen significantly in recent years, from more than 2,000 annually in the early 1990s to less than a quarter of that in 2006.

This is because the movement of displaced people has subsided, people know more about landmines and more clearance has been carried out. There are also fewer people facing acute hunger, meaning fewer people foraging in the forests.

The key issue now, says Mr Leighton, is the fact that so much land still cannot be used - at a time when competition for it has become fierce.

Ten families

Boeung Prolite lies 6 km ( 4 miles) from the Thai border, not far from the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin.

For more than two decades a guerrilla conflict raged in this area - and both sides laid mines extensively.

People began settling in Boeung Prolite in the 1990s, when the fighting wound down.

About 30% of villagers are former Khmer Rouge fighters, the rest are new arrivals from other provinces. They live in simple wooden houses and grow crops for subsistence and sale.

On high ground above the village lies a mine field about the size of 19 football pitches.

This one was laid mainly by the Khmer Rouge and, as well as 72As, contains type 69s - small grey mines which spring upwards to explode at waist height.

Nine casualties have been recorded on this minefield over the years. The last was in 2002, a farmer who wanted to plant more crops.

Roeu Sokhom heads the team that is clearing the site. He, a deputy supervisor, a medic, a driver and 12 deminers began work there in early March after the initial site survey was complete.

Using metal detectors to examine every inch of ground, working in high heat and humidity, they have already destroyed dozens of mines. They expect to complete the job by the end of June.

When it is done, 10 local families, comprising a total of 59 people, will be able to farm there, Roeu Sokhom says.

Some have already moved in to plant up earth cleared only days before, such is their hunger for land.

'Finish line'

One of the mine clearers is 26 year-old Khoeun Sokhorn. She lives with her family in a village near Pailin and has been a deminer for two years.

In 2002, she went into the forest to gather firewood. The area had been classified as "suspect", but people had been going there for years and everyone thought it was safe. A landmine blew off her right leg.

She wants to clear mines so that no-one else gets hurt the way she did, she says. She is proud that the number of casualties is continuing to fall.

But when she finds a mine, there is no flash of triumph - she just reports it to her supervisor and moves on to the next one.

She says she will clear mines as long as there is work for her. She does not need to look for another job yet.

"We will never clear all the mines out of Cambodia, but in 10 years we have a reasonable chance of saying that the worst areas have been cleared," says Mr Leighton.

"It depends on funding and also on how we define the finish line - are we talking about impact-free or casualty-free?"

"We could go on working in Cambodia forever, but the law of diminishing returns would mean that we become more and more expensive."

In Khoeun Sokhorn's village there are several mine fields that need to be cleared.

She is married and she has a three-year-old daughter.

The little girl does not know what a landmine is yet. But, Khoeun Sokhorn says, she is old enough to know that she must not go into certain parts of the forest.
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