The land of heroes
Our heroes
Our land
Cambodia Kingdom

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Cambodia's poor fight for their homes

Despite 'good' law to protect needy landowners, developers gain increasing amounts of property


In a rundown enclave of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, hundreds of poor people can't sleep at night. They're afraid to go to work in the morning for fear their homes will be gone when they return.

Today the clock has run out for the community of 150 families, slated to become the latest victims of clearance projects that have rolled across Cambodia since its land became a prize for developers.

The 26-year-old community is to be evacuated, according to a notice from the municipality dated yesterday. Although residents are appealing, they have seen the dire results of other forced eviction orders, which human rights groups say are contrary to Cambodian law.

A recent clearance in the community of Dey Krahorm left the majority of families homeless after some 250 police and contractors for the company claiming to own the land arrived in the early hours, drove out the residents with threats and tear gas and levelled the village.

Now the Phnom Penh community – known as Group 78 – is facing a similar fate.

"The authorities have offered them compensation of $5,000 (U.S.) and a plot of land, without shelters, 20 kilometres outside the city where there are very limited job opportunities," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, who is monitoring the eviction site.

"There is no clean water supply, no electricity or sanitation," she said in an email to the Star, adding the residents turned down the offer – "to travel to the city from their current work places would cost them more than their expected daily earnings."

Human rights groups say the community has a strong claim to ownership under a 2001 land law passed after genocide and civil war left many Cambodians landless. The Khmer Rouge destroyed public documents, so few had papers to prove ownership. But in 2003, the government brought in a "social land concession plan" to give the poor more secure land tenure.

In spite of fines and jail terms for those who violate the land laws, developers have managed to take over increasing amounts of farm and urban land. In some cases they have made deals with corrupt community leaders to seize the land, pushing the residents out to remote areas without shelter or transportation.

"Cambodia's land law is good," said Mekh Sokhan of the NGO Forum on Cambodia in the newsletter of the Danish charity DanChurchAid. "But the law is not implemented by the authorities."

In Phnom Penh, highrises have sprung up in the last five years with hotels, condos and restaurants sprouting from the once devastated landscape. Prices have doubled, and in spite of the economic meltdown, the wealthy continue to boost the real estate market.

Read more!

Cambodian PM to visit S Korea early next month

PHNOM PENH, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will visit South Korea early next month in the hope of strengthening bilateral ties and cooperation, a government official said here Wednesday.

Hun Sen will meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to discuss investment, tourism and trade cooperation, said Koy Kong, spokesman and undersecretary of state of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Prior to his presidency, Lee Myung-bak once worked as economic advisor for Hun Sen, which helped establish deeply-rooted friendship between the two.

"Cambodia needs more investment from South Korea, and also urges those who have already invested here to speed up development of their projects," the spokesman said.

South Korean investors started to build skyscrapers in Phnom Penh last year, which are expected to become future landmarks of the capital city.

However, most of these projects have recently become stranded due to shortage of funds and the global financial crisis.

In 2007, South Korea became the largest foreign investing country in Cambodia, according to official statistics.
Read more!

Cambodia appeals for more mobile phone investment

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia's telecommunications minister called on Wednesday for more foreign firms to invest in the country's mobile phone sector to satisfy demand that has been growing 40 percent a year in terms of the number of users.

"We want more foreign firms because we want a better service, cheaper, and higher quality," So Khun told reporters at a seminar on mobile phone technology, adding that the government also wanted to extend reliable coverage to the whole of the country.

Cambodia has an estimated 4 million mobile phone subscribers out of a population of about 14 million people, 80 percent of whom live in the countryside.

Khun said mobile phones had helped integrate people living in remote areas, particularly those in parts of the country still covered with land mines from the country's civil war, which only formally ended a decade ago.

"Our people, they love to talk over the phone for business communication. They talk until their phone batteries go dead," Khun said.

The southeast Asian country has eight mobile phone firms, all foreign-owned except market leader Mobitel, which works in partnership with Luxembourg-registered Millicom International Cellular (MICC.O).

"We want the existing companies to set up more antennas, but don't build them near or on historic sites," he said, recalling how in the past one foreign firm caused outrage by siting an antenna on an ancient temple. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Read more!

Cambodia sees higher sex trafficking during crisis

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Cambodia expects an increase in prostitution and human trafficking as the unemployment rate climbs during the economic downturn, the country's secretary of state said on Wednesday.

"More women and more girls will be entering the entertainment business and will also face issues on sexual exploitation," Chou Bun Eng, whose portfolio includes anti-trafficking, told reporters during a visit to Singapore.

Cambodia's economy could shrink 0.5 percent this year due to a slowdown in garment exports and a drop in the number of tourists, the International Monetary Fund said in March.

Chou said the economic crisis has forced many female factory workers to return home and look for "riskier jobs."

Chou said there were about 13 to 18 cases of human trafficking reported in Cambodia last year, but it was difficult to spot because many women were leaving of their own free will after being promised good jobs abroad.

"It's hard to identify the cases as they do not look at themselves as trafficked women," Chou said.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in February human trafficking for the sex trade or forced labor market appears to be getting worse because many countries are ignoring the globalized problem, but it gave no figures.

(Reporting by Laurence Tan; Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Paul Tait)

Read more!

Cambodia: End Threats to Opposition Lawmaker

One of Parliament’s Few Women Faces Criminal Defamation Suit

New York) - Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) should stop threatening to orchestrate the removal of lawmakers' parliamentary immunity in order to silence government critics, Human Rights Watch said today.
In a speech on April 29, 2009, Hun Sen said that it would be "as easy as ABC" to have the parliamentary immunity lifted for Mu Sochua, a National Assembly member. This would permit the government to bring criminal charges against her and prosecute her for publicly criticizing the prime minister. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned Sochua to court on May 7.

"This is yet another blatant attempt to silence the political opposition," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "By threatening to prosecute opposition members of parliament on bogus charges, Hun Sen shows once again that his goal is elective dictatorship, not a genuinely pluralistic democracy."

Under Cambodia's Constitution, members of the National Assembly are immune from prosecution unless the assembly lifts their parliamentary immunity. The CPP has a long history of lifting the parliamentary immunity of opposition figures, though, in order to bring politically motivated criminal charges against them.

Mu Sochua, a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) representing Kampot province, is one of the few female members of the National Assembly. On April 23, she and her lawyer announced her intention to file a defamation complaint against the prime minister after he publicly accused an unnamed woman from Kampot of "inciting" problems and acting like a gangster (cheung klang, literally "strong leg," a term considered especially derogatory for women). Sochua had said she was physically manhandled by a CPP military general during the 2008 election campaign. But Hun Sen, in his remarks, contended that she had instead acted provocatively by "rushing to embrace someone" and then complaining that the person had ripped open several of the buttons of her blouse.

The day after Sochua announced her lawsuit, a senior prime ministerial adviser, Om Yentieng, told the press that Hun Sen would counter-sue Sochua, and that all CPP National Assembly members would support lifting her immunity.

Five days later, Hun Sen confirmed that he was suing "a lady," whom he described as "stupid," as well as her lawyer. The lawsuit against Sochua was filed on April 27 by Hun Sen's lawyer, Ky Tech, former president of the Cambodian Bar Association. Ky Tech has also filed a complaint with the Bar Association against Sochua's lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, accusing him of violating the lawyers' code of ethics in this case.

Opposition figures convicted on politically motivated charges after their parliamentary immunity was lifted include Cheam Channy, an SRP member convicted in a biased trial in 2005 on unsubstantiated charges of creating a rebel army, and the party leader, Sam Rainsy, the same year for allegedly defaming government leaders.

"Punishing Mu Sochua is no idle threat as Hun Sen continues to find ways to intimidate the opposition," said Adams. "Threats to prosecute government critics and lawyers are especially difficult to counter in Cambodia, where the courts are controlled by the government. No judge in Cambodia would stand up to Hun Sen."

Read more!

Cambodia puts 3,000-year-old pre-Angkor relics on show

PHNOM PENH, The National Museum here on Wednesday opened an exhibition to demonstrate some archeological findings prior to the Angkor Era (802-1432), which was the most glorious period in the history of Cambodia.

The "Angkor Ancestors" show mainly features a recreation of an excavation site at the Angkor Wat area in Siem Reap province, complete with pottery shards and a 3,000-year-old skeleton.

Organized by a French research institution and the museum itself, the exhibition is the first ever held in the kingdom on the pre-Angkor period, said museum director Hab Touch.

"This is an opportunity for scholars as well as the public to understand prehistory. We know so little about it," he said.

The artifacts on display were found at two sites within the Angkor Wat area, a 2,000-year-old village location and a 3,000-year-old burial place.

Currently, the Angkor Wat is the most welcomed tourist destination in Cambodia.

Before the Angkor Dynasty, there were two dynasties governing Cambodia, respectively called Funan and Chenla.
Read more!

Cambodian Red Cross to mark 146th anniversary of WRC

PHNOM PENH, The Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) will carry out serial programs to mark the 146th anniversary of the establishment of the World Red Cross (WRC), which falls on May8, national media said on Wednesday.

These programs, with the theme of "For Our World," aim to motivate people to participate in humanitarian work, help prevent and alleviate disasters, enhance public managerial capability and provide aid for accident victims, Chinese-language newspaper the Jian Hua Daily quoted CRC officials as telling a press conference here on Tuesday.

During the recent days, CRC will also commemorate the 54th anniversary of its own establishment and accession to WRC, the official said.

For example, a grand ceremony will be held in this regard on May 8 at the CRC headquarters in Phnom Penh, which Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will attend to highlight the organization's merit, they added.

Currently, CRC mainly undertakes various tasks for humanitarian salvation, such as containing bird flu and influenza A/H1N1, as well as poverty reduction and natural disaster alleviation, according to a CRC statement.
Read more!