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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Red Cross helping Cambodian family separated by war reconnect

Inside the Long Beach Red Cross offices, Cambodian refugee So Chhim,left, his daughter Bo Oum, and his grandson Brandon Oum, 3, get a first look at small photo of his sister and her aunt, So Sophan. The Red Cross is beginning a process that will help them reunite with So s sister, who became separated from her brother during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. (Stephen Carr/Staff Photographer)

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - So Chhim sat quietly with an international envelope and a passport-sized photograph of his sister clutched between his fists.

In a nearby seat, Mike Farrar, a volunteer case worker with the Red Cross' Tracing and Location services, explained the process for So to reconnect with his sister, So Sophan, in Cambodia.

The two have not seen each other since 1968 when So Chhim was a soldier in the Cambodian army. They have not had any contact since 1991 when they were able to communicate through an intermediary. When the go-between disappeared, so did any chance at communication.

In the 17 years since, So Chhim has gone about the business of making a living, raising his four children and seeing five grandchildren added to his family.

He buried the memories of his surviving sister along with those of the family he lost to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, which was responsible for the deaths of upwards of two million Cambodians from execution, starvation and disease.

In August 2008, So Sophan reached out to the Red Cross, which offers a global free service to help reconnect families that have become separated by disaster, natural or man-made.

Red Cross officials say the service is offered whereever there is need.

After an exhaustive search, So Chhim was found through a brother-in-law at a liquor store in Norwalk.

Coincidentally, it was learned that So Chhim works at an airplane parts manufacturer just across the San Diego (405) Freeway from the Long Beach offices of the Red Cross.
It was joked that if the Red Cross had put his name on a balloon, he could have seen it from work and walked over.

Although So Chhim maintained a stoic exterior when Farrar first made contact, his daughter Bopha Oum said he later "teared" in his room.

"He tried to pass it off as something in his eye," Oum said.

As So Chhim talks about contacting his sister and as he recalls the harrowing circumstances of his escape from Cambodia and the slaughter of his family, there is no feigning a lack of emotion.

"It's very important to reconnect," he said through translation. "Now, even though physically we can't be close, emotionally and spiritually we can be connected."

So Chhim doesn't know if he will ever return to Cambodia. A military man trained in special forces, he was intensely sought by the Khmer Rouge.

Even though So Chhim and his wife, Chandy Ma, escaped to Thailand, the Khmer Rouge tried to have So Chhim turned over. They even sent family to try to cajole him.

So Chhim knew better. He says his name was posted on a kill list and that he was to be tortured for seven days before being put to death if caught.

He later learned that his three brothers and their entire families were executed by the Khmer Rouge. Only the younger sister, who was forced to marry a Khmer Rouge soldier, and an older brother, a simple farmer, survived.

Although So Chhim got in touch with his sister after the war, because of his notoriety he did not contact her directly for fear she might face reprisals. When the friend disappeared, so did their only connection.

On Friday, So Chhim drafted a simple letter to his sister.

Oum looks forward to learning more about the aunt she's only heard about.

"I'm very excited. I was in shock," she said. "I mean, we've grown up with the stories, but it never came to mind that we might contact her."

Farrar said he was thrilled to help reconnect the family.

"It's rewarding that we can do humanitarian work like this," Farrar says. "A lot of people think we only do blood work, but it's so much more."

In the case of the So family, it's about bring blood relatives together again., 562-499-1291

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Cambodia's first Cannes buyer leaves town

By Patrick Frater

CANNES -- Sales companies seeking to make their first deals in Cambodia might have missed their chance this week as the country's first-ever buyer at the Cannes market left town Saturday, having snapped up a handful of titles.

"The market is very narrow and focused almost entirely on four genres -- action, horror, comedy and Korean romances," said Kmy Films founder Mariam Arthur, a U.S. film exec now residing in Cambodia.

Arthur picked up two Korean titles this week, including Prime Entertainment's 2006 romance "The Elephant on the Bike." The deals add to the seven movies she bought at Filmart, headed by "Parasomnia" from American World Pictures, "Last of the Living" from Quantum Releasing and others from Lonely Seal and Fries Films.

Cambodia, like neighboring Vietnam, is one of Asia's last undeveloped cinema markets.

"There are almost no 35mm projectors, there are no multiplexes at all, and the Hollywood majors do not distribute there, though this week I had meetings with Universal," Arthur said. "Piracy, with masters coming from Malaysia, is also a problem."

Most films are screened from 2K digital projectors. But distribution technology could skip a generation and further open up the market even if long-awaited multiplexes remain unbuilt. Phone companies are now streaming movies to hand-held devices as well.
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