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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Opposition Leader Warns of Catastrophe

By Sok Kemara, VOA Khmer

Cambodia’s two opposition leaders are in the US together for the first time, and one of them warns that Cambodia is facing a catastrophe.

Sam Rainsy, leader of his self-named party, and Kem Sokha, head of the Human Rights Party, are in the US together seeking political support.

Speaking at a National Democratic Institute conference in Washington Wednesday, Sam Rainsy said the economic crisis was hitting Cambodia hard. “I can tell you that the situation is catastrophic,” he said. “If the economic crisis lasts, let’s say, one year, two years, then we will have serious problems.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government will not be able to address the economic problems, he said, “so this will bring the regime to a very critical stage.”

Echoing Sam Rainsy’s concerns, Kem Sokha said Cambodia needs to unite its democracy advocates and its messages to help people stand up for their rights, something that would not be possible without help from the international community.

The NDI meeting was attended by Cambodian-Americans, US non-governmental agencies and other institutions. Both leaders were looking for greater support from the US and other countries, and said they worry about the future of Cambodia.

They criticized donors for turning a blind eye to Cambodia’s problems with the economy, human rights, corruption and poverty.
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Taiwanese Companies Seek Cambodian Partners

By Pich Samnang

Twenty-five Taiwanese companies meet with government officials Thursday, to discuss increased investment in the face of Cambodia’s one-China policy.

Taiwan has no diplomatic relations with Cambodia, but officials say they welcome its investors.

Dim-Han Chen, managing director of Shie-Dim Machinery Co., Ltd., a machine manufacturer, told VOA Khmer at Thursday’s Taiwanese Trade Forum in Phnom Penh that his company was eyeing the Cambodian market because of its potential in the textile sector.

“There’s been so many garment factories,” he said. “That’s why I’m here, wanting to find a chance and wanting to find a market here because there is no fabric factory here.”

“We want to see the investment environment and see how to run a business here,” said Horace Huang, vice general manager for Taiwan Modern Dyestuffs and Pigments Co., Ltd.

The arrival of the Taiwanese business representatives follows increasingly better relations between mainland China and Taiwan. Taiwan has in the past sought independence from China, which considers it a rogue province.

Cambodia has declared its support for a “one-China” policy and has not allowed a Taiwanese embassy or representative since the closure of its office in July 1997, shortly after the coup.

However, Prime Minister Hun Sen has been quick to accept Taiwanese investment.

Keo Nimet, international relations manager at the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, who is working to attract more Taiwanese investors, said at the forum that statistics on Taiwanese investment in the kingdom is not reliably available, due to the lack of official Taiwanese representation.

He added, however, that if Cambodia can get more Taiwanese investors, the value could reach as much as neighboring countries like Vietnam, which sees $20 billion in Taiwanese investment.

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Khmer Krom Groups To Gather in Paris

By Men Kimseng

Worldwide members of the Khmer ethnic group from southern Vietnam will meet in Paris on Saturday to mark the loss of territory from Cambodia to Vietnam in the colonial period and push for greater freedoms under Vietnamese authorities.

Maggie Murphy, project coordinator for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and one of the organizers for the weekend conference, said that 60 years after Khmers lost the land, they are now living in poor conditions, with few rights.

“There is a lot of oppression,” she told VOA Khmer from her group’s office in the Hague. “There is a lack of ability to express one’s religious freedom, and the socio-economic situation of the Khmer Krom is not what it should be. It is far below that of the ethnic Vietnamese.”

Participants of Saturday’s conference will include French authorities, the secretary-general of Murphy’s organization and an Italian member of the European Parliament.

Kampuchea Krom was awarded by the French to Vietnam on June 4, 1949, when the countries were part of Indochina, a partitioning that nettles many Cambodians today and is a focal point for nationalistic rhetoric.

Millions of Khmer Krom now live without freedom of expression or religion, according to the US-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation.

Vietnamese authorities impose restrictions on all forms of protest. Recently, they arrested a Khmer monk for hostile acts against good relations between Cambodia and Vietnam.

“In the future, the main purpose of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation is to properly prepare legal work to demand more [work against] human rights violations by the Vietnamese authorities,” Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the federation, told VOA Khmer by phone. “Our purpose is to move toward in what we call a journey toward self determination.”

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UN-backed trans-Asian rail agreement goes into effect

11 June 2009 – A railroad agreement aimed at linking 28 countries in Asia and Europe went into effect today, the United Nations announced in Bangkok.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network became operative 90 days after China became the eighth country to have ratified it. The other parties to the agreement – developed with UN assistance – are Cambodia, India, Mongolia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Thailand.

The network comprises 114,000 kilometres of rail routes linking 28 countries in the region. The aim is to offer efficient rail transport services for the movement of goods and passengers within the region and between Asia and Europe, ESCAP said.

The network will also provide improved access for landlocked countries to major ports, ESCAP said.

Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, told an inaugural ceremony in ESCAP’s Bangkok headquarters, “Modern economies cannot generate long-term growth and employment without highly efficient transport networks that are developed with a high level of integration.

“The timing of this agreement is particularly significant as leaders from our region promote intra-regional trade to stimulate recovery from the economic crisis. It will provide a more cost effective way of doing business and ensure the benefits of trade are more evenly distributed across the region,” Ms. Heyzer said.

“Countries worldwide are now realizing that rising demand for transport services can no longer be met by roads alone,” said Ms. Heyzer. “The recent fluctuation in the oil price, growing concern over energy-dependency and the environmental impact of the transport industry are pushing policy-makers to promote more environmentally-friendly and sustainable rail transport solutions.”
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The sex industry in Cambodia

The traffic police

’Tis a pity, but she won’t go away

IN EERIE, deserted silence on the outskirts of Phnom Penh sits the Prey Speu detention centre. Barely legible on its grimy walls a few weeks ago were cries for help and whispers of despair from the tormented souls once crammed into its grimy cells. “This is to mark that I lived in terror under oppression,” read one message.

It recalls a Khmer Rouge torture centre from the genocidal 1970s. But in fact the building was used just last year as a “rehabilitation” centre, where detained sex-workers, along with beggars and the homeless, learnt sewing and cooking. They were rounded up in a crackdown on trafficking for the sex industry. At first an attempt to clean up Phnom Penh, it soon escalated into a violent campaign by the police against prostitutes and those living on the street. According to Licadho, a local human-rights group, guards at the centre beat three people to death, and at least five detainees killed themselves. Sreymoa, a trafficked sex-worker, detained in May 2008 with her four-year-old daughter, recalls daily beatings, rapes and one death.

Partly to allay the previous American administration’s concerns about trafficking, Cambodia in February 2008 outlawed prostitution. Three months later the State Department took Cambodia off its annual “watch-list” of human-trafficking countries. But the police read the law as entitling them to lock up all sex-workers, not help victims of trafficking.

Reports of abuses soon surfaced, at first denied by the government. But in August it halted the raids as the United Nations and NGOs expressed mounting concern. One worry was that they would endanger HIV/AIDS-prevention programmes. The prevalence of HIV in Cambodia had fallen to 0.8% of the population since the government adopted a campaign in 2001 for “100% condom” use. Now, however, fearing the brothels where they worked would be raided, many sex-workers had started plying their trade on the streets or in karaoke bars, where health-care workers could not find them to distribute condoms.

Tony Lisle, of the UN’s AIDS organisation, says that since the raids stopped, HIV-prevention efforts have resumed with more success. Sex-workers in bars as well as brothels are to be covered, and the police to be encouraged to teach sex-workers about condom use. But those campaigning for sex-workers’ rights have objected, fearing that this might give the police a pretext to renew the raids. Jason Barber of Licadho says that for years the government has stopped arbitrary detentions when a fuss has been made, only to restart them as soon as attention has shifted.

Indeed, just before a regional summit in Phnom Penh in late May, the police again herded up beggars, sex-workers and drug-users, and sent them back to Prey Speu, newly reopened (with the graffiti painted over). Detaining sex-workers is much easier than arresting the traffickers. But the global slowdown is adding to the ranks of the unemployed. The World Bank forecasts that 200,000 Cambodians will fall below the poverty line this year. Many will fall into prostitution or beggary, whatever the law says and high-minded donors hope.
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