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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

US pledges $5 million to Khmer Rouge court

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The United States has pledged five million dollars to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal amid the troubled court's attempts to address corruption allegations, an envoy said Wednesday.

Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, told reporters the donation was made "in light of continued progress" with the establishment of an independent official to help monitor graft.

The UN-backed court, which finished arguments in its first trial in November, has faced controversy over allegations of government interference and claims that Cambodian staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

"We believe that credible steps have been taken (against corruption)," Rapp said in a US embassy press conference.

"The whole world is aware that Cambodia is moving forward from a dark period of its history," he said, adding the funds would be intended for the court's second trial, of four senior regime leaders, expected to begin early next year.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation, disease and overwork as the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge movement emptied cities and enslaved the population on collective farms in its bid to create a communist utopia.

The long-awaited first trial heard Duch, real name Kaing Guek Eav, acknowledge responsibility and beg forgiveness for overseeing the torture and execution of more than 15,000 people at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison.

Rapp told reporters he was not troubled by allegations that Cambodia's administration has attempted to interfere in the tribunal to protect former regime members who are now in government.

"From my observations, the court is able to do its work," Rapp said.

Amid repeated warnings by premier Hun Sen that further cases against the hardline regime could spark civil war, Cambodian and international prosecutors have clashed over whether the court should pursue more suspects.

The tribunal was created in 2006 after several years of haggling between Cambodia and the UN.
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Cambodian ex-king returns home from China

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia's elderly former king Norodom Sihanouk and his family returned home on Wednesday from China where he spent seven months receiving medical treatment, officials said.

Sihanouk, his wife, and his son King Norodom Sihamoni were greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials.

Oum Daravuth, a member of the royal cabinet, told reporters that Sihanouk was now in "good health" and that his royal presence would bring harmony to the kingdom and its people.

Sihanouk, 87, has suffered from a number of ailments, including cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

In July last year he returned to Cambodia after a stay of almost one year in China, where he was successfully treated for a third bout of cancer.

He and his wife returned last September for a check-up and treatment, while Sihamoni flew to see the pair in Beijing last month.

The ex-monarch said last October that he had lived too long and wished to die as soon as possible, according to a personal handwritten note on his website. "Lengthy longevity bears on me like an unbearable weight," he said.

One of Asia's longest-serving monarchs, he abruptly quit the throne in October 2004 in favour of his son, citing old age and health problems.

Despite abdicating, Sihanouk remains a prominent figure in Cambodia and often uses messages on his website to comment on matters of state.
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ADRA Helps Displaced Residents Following Destructive Fire in Cambodian Capital

SILVER SPRING, Md.--More than 2,000 people were affected when a house fire broke out on March 8, destroying an entire block of homes in a low-income section of Tuol Kork, in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh, reported the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

According to ADRA Cambodia country director, Mark Schwisow, house fires are common in the shanty areas of Phnom Penh due to the construction of small, wooden homes, which are often built in close proximity to each other. In addition, when an emergency occurs, Schwisow explained, the small entryways into these areas hinder critical response vehicles, which are unable to access the affected buildings, leading to widespread destruction of entire blocks of homes.

"Families have been forced to move in with family members and friends, or onto small spaces by the railroad, or the pagoda compound near where they lived," said Schwisow.

To meet the immediate needs of 2,000 survivors, ADRA worked with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cambodia to purchase emergency supplies and basic food supplements, including rice, sugar, oil, fish, noodles, and tarpaulins. This aid was distributed on March 10, in collaboration with the Phnom Penh governor's office, and with the support of other local institutions.

ADRA International, the ADRA Asia Regional Office, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cambodia, and ADRA Cambodia funded the response.

In April 2008 and 2009, ADRA also provided assistance to local residents following two separate fires that displaced more than 3,500 people in impoverished sections of Phnom Penh.

ADRA has been active in Cambodia since 1988 in the main sectors of Health, Water and Sanitation, and Food Security.

Follow ADRA on Twitter and Facebook to get the latest information as it happens.

To send your contribution to ADRA's Emergency Response Fund, please contact ADRA at 1.800.424.ADRA (2372) or give online at

ADRA is a non-governmental organization present in 125 countries providing sustainable community development and disaster relief without regard to political or religious association, age, gender, race or ethnicity.

For more information about ADRA, visit
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Camouflage expert discovered in Cambodia

Researchers have discovered a cryptic species of gecko in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), a conservation group that operates in the region.

The new species, named Cnemaspis neangthyi after Neang Thy, a Cambodian conservationist, was first collected during a field survey led by Dr Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in 2007. It is characterized by a broad flattened head and cryptic coloration that helps it blend in with rock surfaces and tree trunks.

Neang, who runs FFI’s Cardamom Mountains Research Group and works for Cambodia's Ministry of Environment, said the discovery highlights the need to study and protect the Cardamom region, a biodiversity trove that is under threat from agriculture, fire, and illegal logging.

"Maybe this [discovery] will also help to involve Cambodian people more in the conservation of species, landscapes and habitats," he said in a statement. "If we do not do this, many animals in Cambodia may soon become extinct and we will not be able to show them to our children."

The Cardamom Mountains region has been named a Global Biodiversity Hotspot and is home to at least 62 globally threatened animal and 17 globally threatened tree species. According to FFI, the Greater Cardamoms cover over 2 million hectares of forest, making it one of the largest remaining blocks of evergreen forest in Southeast Asia.
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Who will defend the children in Cambodia?

At the end of January, Human Rights Watch released a report on abuses throughout Cambodia's system of drug detention centres.

Our report detailed terrible abuses and sadistic violence. The adults and children we interviewed told us of being beaten, whipped and punished with electric shocks.

Unicef provides direct funding for one of the centres, where drug-users and children - some reportedly as young as four - are brought in from the streets. When we briefed them four months before we released our report, they told us they were shocked.

They promised to look into the abuses. Children who had been detained at the Unicef-funded centre told us of being tortured. They told us of being forced to do exhausting military exercises, work on construction projects and even dance naked for guards.

We expected Unicef to press for a thorough and independent investigation and to demand that those responsible for the abuses be held accountable. We hoped they would conduct a review of their funding, programming and activities. We expected them to press the Cambodian government more broadly about the detention of children alongside adults.

What actually happened? Not much. Unicef issued a statement when our report was released saying that past reviews conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs - the ministry running the centre - had found no evidence of "major violations".

Over the next few weeks Unicef officials defended their support for the centre, saying that they monitor conditions in the centre "from time to time". Unicef's director in Cambodia, Richard Bridle, said that they "look for the positive". At the same time, Bridle conceded that he "wouldn't be surprised" if abuses were taking place, and that these kinds of abuses are "typical in centres [such] as this one".

Last week, Unicef officials visited the centre - the Choam Chao Youth Rehabilitation Centre, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh - and then told reporters that Human Rights Watch had made a mistake. Mr Bridle said that on their visit, Unicef staff had joked with children being held there and found them "engaging".

Bridle told the Phnom Penh Post that "there is no culture of violence" at the centre. He pointed to an as-yet-unreleased internal assessment by the Ministry of Social Affairs and to statements made by a non-governmental organisation that provides some services in the centre (and which is also financed by Unicef) to suggest that we had our facts wrong.

It's a tactic we are more accustomed to seeing from repressive governments than from Unicef officials: A quick trip, an internal investigation and an announcement of no wrongdoing.

In contrast to Unicef's cursory review, our investigation was independent and thorough. We conducted detailed, in-depth interviews with 53 people who had been detained in drug detention centres within the last three years, 17 of whom had been detained at the centre Unicef supports. Our interviews were conducted outside of the centres, where children could feel safe from possible retaliation for telling us of their experiences.

While Unicef claims that the Choam Chao centre is "open" and "voluntary", here is what a few children who had been held at the centre told us:

"I tried to escape but my feet got stuck on the barbed wire. I was re-arrested. They beat me with a rattan stick until I lost consciousness and they poured water on me. They said, each time, "Don't run again!" Teap (14 years old);

"As soon as I arrived, the Social Affairs staff kicked and beat me. I don't know why. He said, 'You stay here. Do not run! There are high walls here. If you get re-arrested, I won't be responsible if your leg is broken.'" Chambok (17 years old);

"They shocked the big kids who tried to escape. I saw when they escaped and when they got shocked. They shocked them a lot." Chamnauth (15 years old);

"If anyone tried to escape, he would be punished. Some people managed to escape, some didn't. Most who were punished for escaping would be beaten unconscious. Beatings like this happened every day." M'noh (16 years old).

All of these children were detained during the period when the centre was getting funds from Unicef.

We're not the only ones presenting evidence of abuse. In the same article that quotes Richard Bridle saying that "These were not brutalised kids", the reporter from the Phnom Phen Post quoted a drug-user who had been at the Unicef-funded centre a year ago: "They used sticks.

They unlocked the door, entered and started beating. They punched me in the face. They smashed my head against the wall. They beat me three times with the cable in the same place. You could see the flesh come out. It was like pieces of flesh from a fish." He then showed the journalist his scars.

We have briefed Unicef four times, before our report and afterwards, both in Cambodia and New York. It's been six months since we first presented our findings, methodology and recommendations.

While Unicef officials defend their colleagues at the Ministry of Social Affairs, who is defending the children at the centre they fund, or at the 10 other drug detention centres throughout the country? When will Unicef decide to listen to the voices of the children who have been beaten and tortured? When will they support our call for a thorough, independent and credible investigation?

Joe Amon is director of health and human rights for Human Rights Watch.
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Cambodia fish exports climb to 30 mln USD in 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia exported 30,000 tons of fish products and earned 30 million U.S. dollars in 2009, local media quoted figures from the government as saying Wednesday.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Fisheries Department reported Tuesday that 20,000 tons of fresh fish and 10,000 tons of processed fish went to international markets last year, an increase of 5,000 tons over 2008.

But an official said that the shipments were putting pressure on local supplies.

"We do not want to export too much because we want to give an adequate supply to local demand," Sam Nov, deputy director of the department, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying, but without specifying the amount of fish needed for Cambodia itself.

The government has had to work to balance the rise in international demand for Cambodia's fish products with the needs of Cambodians, for whom freshwater fish are a staple.

Cambodians brought in 465,000 tons of fish in 2009, according to the Fisheries Department report. Of that, 390,000 tons were freshwater fish.

The total haul for 2008 was 365,000 tons, a more than 25 percent increase.

However, only 25,000 tons, worth 25 million U.S. dollars, were exported -- 17,000 tons of fresh fish and 8,000 tons of processed fish.

Cambodia exports elephant fish, grouper, lobster, crab and prawns, along with processed freshwater fish. Buyers include Australia, China, China's Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Work begins on Cambodian hydropower project


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- A Chinese company has begun construction of one of several hydroelectric dam projects planned to reduce electricity shortages in Cambodia that environmentalists warn could do more harm than good, an official said Tuesday.

The China National Heavy Machinery Corp. will build the 246-megawatt plant in Koh Kong province, with an investment of $540 million. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday, and the project is due for completion by 2014, said Pich Siyun, chief of the province's Industry Department.

"We have a shortage of electricity now, and I hope that the dam would help reduce people's poverty as the price of electricity would be cheaper," he said.

On Thursday, a ceremony is expected to take place in the capital Phnom Penh for the inauguration of another Chinese-built hydroelectricity project in Koh Kong. Pich Siyun said China Huadian Corp. plans to build a $558 million hydropower plant that would generate up to 338 megawatts.

Koh Kong province is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) west of Phnom Penh.

Electricity generation in Cambodia remains largely underdeveloped, with most power plants using fossil fuels. The impoverished Southeast Asian nation also buys electricity from neighboring Vietnam and Thailand.

Power costs in Cambodia are among the highest in the world, and only about 12 percent of its 14 million people have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

Electricity prices are also a major source of complaint from investors in Cambodia.

In a bid to meet future electricity demand, the government has identified 21 potential hydroelectric dam sites across the country.

But environmentalists have voiced concerns about the impact those projects will have.

In a 2008 report, the U.S.-based International Rivers Network said "poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage" Cambodia's environment and also extract a social cost.

But Pich Siyun dismissed the concerns, saying the projects were studied thoroughly by all concerned ministries before they were approved by the government.

"Of course there is an impact from the dams once we build, but according to our studies, the income from electricity will really boost our economy," Pich Siyun said.

No specific plans have been announced to export power generated from the hydro schemes - an approach embraced by Cambodia's cash-strapped neighbor, Laos - but Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously said that if Cambodia's capacity was adequate it would consider selling electricity to Thailand.
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Did Climate Influence Angkor's Collapse? Evidence Suggests Changing Environment Can Bring Down a Civilization

ScienceDaily (Mar. 29, 2010) — Decades of drought, interspersed with intense monsoon rains, may have helped bring about the fall of Cambodia's ancient Khmer civilization at Angkor nearly 600 years ago, according to an analysis of tree rings, archeological remains and other evidence. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may also shed light on what drives -- and disrupts -- the rainy season across much of Asia, which waters crops for nearly half the world's population.

Historians have offered various explanations for the fall of an empire that stretched across much of Southeast Asia between the 9th and 14th centuries, from deforestation to conflict with rival kingdoms. But the new study offers the strongest evidence yet that two severe droughts, punctuated by bouts of heavy monsoon rain, may have weakened the empire by shrinking water supplies for drinking and agriculture, and damaging Angkor's vast irrigation system, which was central to its economy. The kingdom is thought to have collapsed in 1431 after a raid by the Siamese from present-day Thailand. The carved stone temples of its religious center, Angkor Wat, are today a major tourist destination, but much of the rest of the civilization has sunk back into the landscape.

"Angkor at that time faced a number of problems -- social, political and cultural. Environmental change pushed the ancient Khmers to the limit and they weren't able to adapt," said the study's lead author, Brendan Buckley, a climate scientist and tree-ring specialist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "I wouldn't say climate caused the collapse, but a 30-year drought had to have had an impact."

Scientists led by Buckley were able to reconstruct 759 years of past climate in the region surrounding Angkor by studying the annual growth rings of a cypress tree, Fokienia hodginsii, growing in the highlands of Vietnam's Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, about 700 kilometers away. By hiking high into the mountain cloud forests, the researchers were able to find rare specimens over 1,000 years old that had not been touched by loggers. After extracting tiny cores of wood showing the trees' annual growth rings, researchers reconstructed year-to-year moisture levels in this part of Southeast Asia from 1250 to 2008. The tree rings revealed evidence of a mega-drought lasting three decades -- from the 1330s to 1360s-- followed by a more severe but shorter drought from the 1400s to 1420s. Written records corroborate the latter drought, which may have been felt as far away as Sri Lanka and central China.

The droughts may have been devastating for a civilization dependent on farming and an irrigation system of reservoirs, canals and embankments sprawling across more than a thousand square kilometers. The droughts could have led to crop failure and a rise in infectious disease, and both problems would have been exacerbated by the density of the population, Buckley says.

The study also finds that the droughts were punctuated by several extraordinarily intense rainy seasons that may have damaged Angkor's hydraulic system. During a normal monsoon season, Angkor's hydraulic network could have handled heavy downpours, but after extended droughts, the system may have been vulnerable to massive siltation and clogging, the study suggests. Layers of coarse debris and other sediments found blocking some canals appear to have been laid down suddenly. In other spots, apparently sudden erosion cut canals as much as 8 meters below the surrounding landscape, potentially destabilizing the hydraulic system. Archeologists have found additional evidence that canals were rebuilt and rerouted to cope with water shortages.

In compiling the longest tropical tree ring record to date, researchers found that the third-driest, and the driest, years in the last 760 years occurred back to back in 1402 and 1403, about three decades before Angkor's fall. The second driest was 1888, which coincided with the 1888-1889 El Niño, a cyclical warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean. By correlating known El Niño cycles measured with modern instruments, researchers have documented how the cyclical warming and cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean brings rain to some places and drought to others. The authors of the current study and other researchers suggest that El Niño, possibly abetted by longer, decades-long cycles across the Pacific basin, may have played an important role in shutting down the monsoon rains in this region, creating withering droughts in the past. Some scientists suspect that warming of the global climate may intensify these cycles in the future, raising the possibility of alternating Angkor-like droughts and destructive floods that could affect billions of people.

Similar studies suggest that abrupt environmental changes may have pushed other ancient civilizations over the edge, including the Anasazi people of the southwestern United States; the Maya people of Central America, and the Akkadian people of Mesopotamia. There is some evidence that other once-powerful kingdoms in what is now Vietnam and Myanmar may have fallen during the late 1700s, following extreme dry and wet periods.

"Both human society and the erth's climate system are complex systems capable of unexpected behavior. Through the long-term perspective offered by climate and archaeological records, we can start to identify and understand the myriad ways they may interact," said study coauthor Kevin Anchukaitis, a tree ring scientist at Lamont. "The evidence from monsoon Asia should remind us that complex civilizations are still quite vulnerable to climate variability and change."
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VanceInfo Announces IT Services Engagement with Cambodian Telecom Firm

BEIJING, March 29 /PRNewswire-Asia/ -- VanceInfo Technologies Inc. (NYSE: VIT) ("VanceInfo") (the "Company"), an IT service provider and one of the leading offshore software development companies in China, today announced an agreement to provide a comprehensive telecommunications back-end management system for Chuan Wei (Cambodia) Company Ltd. ("Chuan Wei"), a provider of cutting-edge broadband services in Southeast Asia. The agreement, signed at a ceremony in Phnom Penh by David Chen, President of VanceInfo, and Chuan Wei's Chairman and CEO, Alan Khov, comes following a rigorous global vendor search and evaluation by Chuan Wei.

Chuan Wei offers corporate communications services in Cambodia through a nationwide fiber-optic network and is planning to introduce wireless broadband services. "Chuan Wei will play a leading role in establishing world-class broadband and ICT infrastructure in Cambodia, so we can afford to work with nothing less than world-class IT services companies having expertise in the telecom space," said Mr. Khov. "Our goal is an integrated solution to handle not only our business and operational support systems (B/OSS), but also billing and customer-relationship management. VanceInfo's software will underpin a new, higher-quality breed of Internet services in Cambodia." Although Internet usage in the country of 15 million people has nearly doubled the past five years, the overall penetration rate is at less than 1 percent of the population. Chuan Wei expects a surge in demand when affordable wireless broadband services become more widely available.

"We are pleased to be selected by Chuan Wei to develop and implement an end-to-end solution for their telecom needs, and excited to help Cambodia advance in the field of information and communications technology," added Mr. Chen. "Our strong IT service offerings in the telecom space allow us to provide a solution that is customized to their specific business, technical and geographic requirements. As with all our clients, we are committed to delivering first-class IT services to Chuan Wei that support an expected rapid expansion of business in the emerging Cambodian telecom marketplace."

VanceInfo performs IT services across multiple geographies including Asia Pacific, the Americas, and Europe for many Fortune 500 clients including leading telecom carriers in mainland China and Hong Kong as well as prominent technology firms such as Microsoft and IBM. The engagement with Chuan Wei in Cambodia sets a new milestone for the Company's strategic business expansion in the South East Asia region.

About VanceInfo

VanceInfo Technologies Inc. is an IT service provider and one of the leading offshore software development companies in China. VanceInfo was the first China software development outsourcer listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Company ranked number one among Chinese offshore software development service providers for the North American and European markets as measured by 2008 revenues, according to International Data Corporation.

VanceInfo's comprehensive range of IT services includes research & development services, enterprise consulting & solutions, application development & maintenance, quality assurance & testing, and globalization & localization. VanceInfo provides these services primarily to corporations headquartered in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China, targeting high-growth industries such as technology, telecommunications, financial services, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.

About Chuan Wei

Chuan Wei (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. is the country's fastest-growing broadband communications provider. Established in June 2008, the company operates a nationwide fiber-optic network and has launched corporate services such as dedicated Internet access, IP transit, private leased circuits (domestic and international), and co-location. It plans to roll out wireless broadband services for the mass market nationwide later this year.

Chuan Wei is rooted in one of Cambodia's most diversified business groups with interests across a wide spectrum of sectors including banking, property development, construction, hospitality, garment, and cement manufacturing.

Safe Harbor

This news release includes statements that may constitute forward-looking statements made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements can be identified by terminology such as will, should, expects, anticipates, future, intends, plans, believes, estimates, and similar statements. Among other things, the management's quotations contain forward-looking statements. Such statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected. Potential risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the company's dependence on a limited number of clients for a significant portion of its revenues, the economic slowdown in its principal geographic markets, the quality and portfolio of its services lines and industry expertise, and the availability of a large talent pool in China and supply of qualified professionals, as well as the PRC government's investment in infrastructure construction and adoption of various incentives in the IT service industry. Further information regarding these and other risks is included in VanceInfo's filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. All information provided in this news release and in the attachments is as of March 30, 2010, and VanceInfo does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statement as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required under applicable law.

SOURCE VanceInfo Technologies Inc.
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Monday, March 29, 2010

The personal is political: Q&A with Leang Seckon, Cambodian Freedom Artist

Leang Seckon, one of Cambodia's foremost contemporary artists, will see his first European solo exhibition, The Heavy Skirt, opening March 31 at London's Rossi & Rossi gallery. Unlike depictions of his homeland that you might come across in the US, Seckon's work presents a rich and complex view of Cambodia, involving elements of performance, collage, painting and illustration. But it can be confusing, like speaking with the artist himself.

"A problem is me, not perfect English," Seckon tells me when I turn on my tape recorder. But I disagree: The problem is how rarely we take the time to listen.

And Seckon's work is worthy of a close listen. He calls himself a freedom artist and this is no slight pronouncement. Born during Nixon's secret bombing of his homeland, he grew up against the background sound of civil war, spent adolescence under the Khmer Rouge and watched his country's subsequent occupation by the Vietnamese fade into a damaging UN presence and the country's first violent, but democratic elections. His work, whatever the medium, is autobiographical. His freedom and his country's have been hard earned. But neither is complete and Seckon does not shy away from describing the limits to Cambodia's freedom of expression. Yet, he clearly loves his homeland.

"Will you leave the country if the show is successful?" I ask him. His answer is firm.

"Stay in Cambodia," he says.

After all, he honed his skills at Phnom Penh's Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), taking two Bachelor's degrees in place of the BFA and MFA he might have pursued were the Cambodian higher education system not struggling to catch up to his artistic vision. After finishing school, he held exhibitions throughout Phnom Penh, with group and solo shows at emerging galleries in the city and exhibitions in nearby tourist centers like Phuket, Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia. He quickly made the leap to international cities with established art scenes like Fukuoka, Japan and Hong Kong. Back home, his work has been endorsed by two kings.

Still, his first solo exhibition in Europe is a significant milestone for the accomplished Cambodian artist. He gave me a preview in his studio on the doomed Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh.

Anne Elizabeth Moore: Where did the title of the exhibition come from?
Leang Seckon: The Heavy Skirt is the meaning from the life of my mom. When I am a child in the stomach, she wore the skirt, the skirt cover the stomach and cover me. The skirt is of course the time of war. We cannot go out, she have just only one clothes, one [heavily quilted] skirt. So her body heavy and the skirt heavy. When I am born, the time of bomb, heavy life.

I was born in the countryside, Prey Vien Province. I was a buffalo boy. I spent nearly ten years as a buffalo boy. During that time, I wanted to learn art and be an artist. But during that buffalo boy time I never ... during that buffalo boy time, we were poor. We not have anything. We not have bicycle. We not have enough rice. We not have enough clothes, we not have enough anything for living. So I spent the time at the rice field with the buffalo, then when I come to learn art, it was very very very different.

AEM: When did you first come to Phnom Penh to study and leave the rice fields?

LS: I came to Phnom Penh city for the first time in 1992, to learn art at RUFA. I studied traditional painting and interior design for five years. I finished my degree in 2002. Then that year I start to find a way to make art. In 2002 I had [my first] opening at Java Cafe.

AEM: One of your paintings depicts the American bombing of Cambodia. You are a toddler, abandoned in the middle of a rice field, while the countryside burns around you.

LS: The story my mom told me was that when the bomb come from the sky and around the house, she and my brother were in the bunker. She tried to get me but cannot, so she just left me alone outside of the bunker. That is real story of my life. This is story from the mother. But, you know, the sound from the airplane, the sound from the car, the sound from the bomb or the gun, [when I hear them today] I am very shocked and scared. I think this is feeling from that time.

AEM: You also depict the Pol Pot years with collaged images from photographs of Tuol Sleng victims and bodies wrapped as if in cocoons.

LS: Because people were like mummies. I add the black and white scarf, what normally the Khmer Rouge were wearing in Pol Pot time. They wrap the body but they keep the head for getting breath. Like the body cannot move [he acts this out] maybe the face and just they eyes can move and breathe. Everything else is still. Like stuck. Not a freedom at all. Stuck everything. This is what I mean.

I was very very very young. I'm very scared and cry. And very shocked. I compare it to [spending time around] the living dead.

AEM: Several of your previous projects including The Rubbish Project [] and some works in this exhibition focus on environmental concerns, which are frequently ignored as the country develops.

LS: I spent nearly ten years as a buffalo boy and I love nature so much. I need nature, I need water, I need [he breathes deeply] fresh air for free. I heard from the TV a few days ago, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Samdech Hun Sen, he's very upset when the people cut down the tree. He's very supportive of finding the money and people to look after the tree. He very upset. Especially for the fish in the big lake, too.

So I am here, my studio on Boeung Kak Lake, the most important lake in Phnom Penh. But [laughs] the government destroy. Not the government, but the company buy the lake and destroy the lake. I not feel happy at all because I spent 8 years on the lake to get energy for make my art work. So I can relax to make a painting.

AEM: The arts are still re-emerging in Cambodia, but in the realm of journalism, reporters who criticize the government are regularly threatened or worse. Does this make you nervous?

LS: My art is respect. I don't want to attack back. I want to say something gentle and not attack, but let people know that they did something wrong. But I don't want any people - any people - hurt by me. I just try to make you understand that what you did to me is painful and you try to understand by yourself that this is what you did to me. History is treachery. It is already done, but I want to show the people what happened in past time and they can understand more deeply about the present in art.

Between good luck or bad luck is activity, what activity they are doing. I can say to you, like, I respect you, but behave toward you like I'm trying to kill you. This is the meaning, you know?

Cambodia is worried. It's not very safe at all right now. What I want to focus on at this point is about my mom's experience and my life's start and how I grew up until now. Because I have never used my own experience in artwork. This is my own language and my own experience and my own life. But all of this work is of course about war, about the environment, about life and about culture.

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Tour to start on late Mass. Cambodian monk’s book

LOWELL— Organizers behind the publication of a poetry collection by a late Lowell Cambodian monk are scheduled to launch a nationwide tour promoting the book.

The Light of Cambodian Children and Cambodian Expressions will release the book by Ly Van Aggadipo on Thursday at Middlesex Community College in Lowell.

The book describes the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime through the eyes of Ly Van, who died in January 2008

Following the Lowell event are stops in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Paul, Minn., and Long Beach, Calif. Tour stops will feature readings and accompanying musical performances by two Cambodian artists.

The book’s editor, Samkhann Khoeun, said the tour will bring the monk’s story to various Cambodian American communities across the country.

© Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lion Kill 42 midgets in Cambodia

Spectators cheered as entire Cambodian Midget Fighting League squared off against African Lion

Tickets had been sold-out three weeks before the much anticipated fight, which took place in the city of Kâmpóng Chhnãng.

The fight was slated when an angry fan contested Yang Sihamoni, President of the CMFL, claiming that one lion could defeat his entire league of 42 fighters.

Sihamoni takes great pride in the league he helped create, as was conveyed in his recent advertising campaign for the CMFL that stated his midgets will "... take on anything; man, beast, or machine."

This campaign is believed to be what sparked the undisclosed fan to challenge the entire league to fight a lion; a challenge that Sihamoni readily accepted.

An African Lion (Panthera Leo) was shipped to centrally located Kâmpóng Chhnãng especially for the event, which took place last Saturday, April 30, 2005 in the city’s coliseum.

The Cambodian Government allowed the fight to take place, under the condition that they receive a 50% commission on each ticket sold, and that no cameras would be allowed in the arena.

The fight was called in only 12 minutes, after which 28 fighters were declared dead, while the other 14 suffered severe injuries including broken bones and lost limbs, rendering them unable to fight back.

Sihamoni was quoted before the fight stating that he felt since his fighters out-numbered the lion 42 to 1, that they “… could out-wit and out-muscle [it].”

Unfortunately, he was wrong.

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Cambodian party leaders meet secretary of CPC Shaanxi Provincial Committee

China and Cambodia on Friday agreed to further strengthen comprehensive partnership of cooperation as well as party exchanges.

Nhiek Bun Chhay (3rd R), secretary general of FUNCINPEC party, meets with Zhao Leji (3rd L), secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC) Shaanxi Provincial Committee, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on March 26, 2010. China and Cambodia on Friday agreed to further strengthen comprehensive partnership of cooperation as well as party exchanges.(Xinhua/Lei Baisong)

This was reached when Say Chhum, member of the Permanent Committee of the Central Committee of Cambodian People's Party ( CPP) and Nhiek Bun Chhay, secretary general of FUNCINPEC party held separate meetings with Zhao Leji, secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC) Shaanxi Provincial Committee.

During the meetings, they briefed each other on economic and social development, and had an in-depth exchange on further strengthening the cooperation between the two countries on various fields.

Say Chhum and Nhiek Bun Chhay, on behalf of their political parties, thanked Chinese government's long-term assistance and supports to Cambodia's social and economic development, and spoke highly of the achievements made by Chinese government.

Moreover, they reiterated that Cambodia would adhere to the one- China policy, and continue to support Chinese government's stance on its most important issues such as the stance on Taiwan and Tibet.

Zhao Leji, also member of CPC Central Committee, said he was glad to see that Cambodia has undergone enormous economic and social changes, and also played active role in the regional and international affairs.

Say Chhum (3rd R), member of the Permanent Committee of the Central Committee of Cambodian People's Party (CPP), meets with Zhao Leji (3rd L), secretary of Communist Party of China (CPC) Shaanxi Provincial Committee, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on March 26, 2010. China and Cambodia on Friday agreed to further strengthen comprehensive partnership of cooperation as well as party exchanges.(Xinhua/Lei Baisong)

Zhao said China and Cambodia share long-time friendship. The two countries are strengthening political trust and cooperation, benefiting the two peoples. China wishes to work together with Cambodia to push forward Sino-Cambodian relations to a new high.

Zhao and his delegation arrived here Friday to pay a three-day goodwill visit to Cambodia at the invitation of the Cambodia People's Party.

Source: Xinhua.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

30 Hour Famine lets youth wage war on hunger

OTTAWA — One child dies every three seconds from preventable causes like hunger and disease. Nearly nine million children under the age of five die each year.

These are the kinds of statistics that are expected to prompt more than 100,000 people — including celebrities like Mike Fisher of the Ottawa Senators — to take part in World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine this year.

International participants raise money to fight poverty and injustice worldwide and go without food for 30 hours. They experience what an empty stomach feels like first-hand and learn about poverty and hunger from guest speakers and the World Vision 30 Hour Famine website.

This year’s event will take place April 16.

“Being a part of World Vision, I got to experience first-hand how they help people help themselves,” said Fisher. “I had the unique opportunity to help out and make a difference.”

A global event, the 30 Hour Famine began in Canada in 1971 with a group of Calgary teens who held a fast after seeing TV images of famine in Africa. The annual event now includes youth in 21 countries annually.

This year, World Vision hopes to raise $5 million across Canada.

Funds raised will support efforts to eradicate hunger, disease and injustice around the world, providing assistance to countries like Brazil, Cambodia, Ghana, Kenya, India, Peru and Thailand. Funds from this year’s campaign will also support programs in Haiti, as well as programs aimed at reducing sexual violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Alexis O’Neil is a past participant and is now the event’s regional representative for eastern Ontario.

“I have been doing the famine every year since high school and now I organize it for students in my hometown of Ottawa,” said O’Neil.

“I feel strongly that we need to think ourselves as citizens of the world and not just Canada. Often times we hear about the issues of poverty, hunger and injustice and this is a great opportunity to ask questions about it and open up a dialogue,” she said.

“During the famine, we do activities such as scavenger hunts, we watch movies, play dodge ball and do other activities that get the students to think why other people around the world are living below the poverty line.”

World Vision spokesman T.J. Grant said young Canadians have proven they can make a difference in the world.

“For 39 years, Canadian youth have shown their commitment to eradicating child hunger and malnutrition by participating in the World Vision 30 Hour Famine,” said Grant.

“Canadian teens understand that preventing child hunger and malnutrition is a priority and is an issue that we need to address now. Youth are making it their personal goal to do something and are motivating their friends, families and communities to get involved in this national campaign.”
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Vietnam, Cambodia plant eight more border markers deep inside Cambodia Territory

Vietnam’s southern province of Tay Ninh and Cambodia’s Kongpong Cham province kicked off the planting of eight more markers along their borderline on March 26.

The same day, the border marker planting steering committees of the two provinces held talks on the issue, reviewing the achievements they have made so far.

The two sides showed their determination to complete the task following an agreement signed between the governments of Vietnam and Cambodia.
Tay Ninh shares a 240km borderline with Cambodia’s Kongpong Cham, Pvay Veng and Svay Rieng provinces.

According to the Additional Treaty of the 1985 Border Demarcation Treaty between the two countries, there will be 52 border markers planted between Tay Ninh and Kongpong Cham province out of a total 101 border markers in Tay Ninh province.

To date, construction of 48 markers has been completed. The two sides are determined to complete the task by 2012. (VNA)
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Vietnam Plus Launches Papier Mache Project

Vietnam Plus, the parent NGO of Vietnam Quilts, launches a Papier Mache project, with the objective of generating income for women from poor regions.

Following the success of Vietnam Quilts as an income provider for women from poor, rural regions of Vietnam, Vietnam Plus and Mekong Plus, the parent NGO’s, are launching a papier mache project to further increase employment opportunities.

Women from Long My in the Mekong Delta, and Rumdoul, in Svay Rieng province just over the Cambodian border recently participated in training provided by Thao Duong, a papier mache artist based in Hong Kong. Ms Duong was impressed with how quickly the women picked up the necessary skills and how creative they have been in adapting the product designs to locally available materials.

The launch product range is focusing on mirrors, ranging from hand mirrors to large wall mirrors and candy bowls, in the shape of tropical fish. The fish proved particularly popular when trialled at the Mekong Merchant bazaar last week, with customers showing a strong preference for clownfish. More products are in the pipeline.

“It’s fantastic to see this initial interest” commented Bernard Kervyn, Director of Vietnam Plus. “With all profits going back to the women and their communities, we hope that we can continue to develop products that will appeal to both residents and tourists.”

The papier mache products are available at Out2 Studio and Vietnam Quilts in Ho Chi Minh City, at Vietnam Quilts in Hanoi, and at Mekong Quilts in Phnom Penh. 80% of all sales return to the villages and as little as $30 is enough for an annual scholarship for a child from a poor family.

About Vietnam Plus:
Vietnam Plus and Mekong Plus work together in Vietnam, with Mekong Plus also present in Cambodia. The NGO aims for community development, targeting the poorest communities, seeking strong involvement from those communities and leading low cost, sustainable actions. The programs cover today about 500 villages, 40 of which are in Cambodia. The direct recipients are around 170.000 children, women and families. Vietnam Quilts is a project of Vietnam Plus, providing employment for women, with profits cycled through the parent NGO into community development programmes.

Bernard Kervyn
Director, Vietnam Plus
Phone: 091 310 5189


Vietnam Quilts Out2 Design Studio
64 Ngo Duc Ke L6 FAFILM Building
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City 6 Thai Van Lung Street
08 3914 2119 District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
03 825 6056

Vietnam Quilts Mekong Quilts
13 Hang Bac 49, Street 240
Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi Phnom Penh
04 7306 3682 023 219 607
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Friday, March 26, 2010

Angry village mob in Cambodia kills suspected bike thieves

An angry village mob in Cambodia armed with bamboo sticks and stones beat to death two suspected robbers, dragging them away from police who had arrested them for stealing a motorcycle, police said Friday.

The throng of about 400 villagers was so frenzied that police got scared, said Maj. Bonn Sam Ath, a police chief in the district of Dangkor, on the western outskirts of the capital.

“The villagers threatened to attack us if we refused to hand over the suspects to them,” Bonn Sam Ath said. “We had no choice. They would have beaten us too if we protected the suspects.”

The men were among three people arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing a motorcycle from two sisters, who were riding it when attackers hit them over the head with pistols. The women were hospitalized in critical condition.

Word spread through the village that police had detained suspects, prompting a crowd led by relatives of the victims to await their arrival near the police station, said Bonn Sam Ath, adding that police initially tried to protect the suspects.

The third suspected robber survived by pretending he was dead, he said. Police do not plan to press charges because they do not know which members of the mob were responsible for the murders, he added.

Mob killings are not uncommon in rural Cambodia, where police are often seen as corrupt and villagers take justice into their own hands.
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China and Cambodia grow closer

In the past few years, China has become the largest foreign investor in Cambodia, with more than six billion US dollars (4.5 billion euros) approved since 2006. Beijing is also a generous donor, having granted around two billion dollars in aid over the same period.

China is the kind of friend Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen openly appreciates, since its money comes with no human rights or governance strings attached – unlike that of other donor countries, which gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the Cambodian government last year.

But as China and much-smaller Cambodia draw closer – at least financially – some are questioning what Phnom Penh might be getting into.

Good governance, transparency and environment at risk

Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst in Phnom Penh, pointed out good governance, transparency and the environment as being especially at risk.

When it comes to transparency and corruption, Cambodia sits near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption index of 180 countries. China is 79th, around halfway up the ladder.

"Do we need China with that score to be our grade teacher for good governance? Cambodia needs good democratic governance and to have sustainable economic progress," she said.

However, Cheang Vanarith, who heads a local research body called the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, thought that China’s influence was broadly positive.

"We need China in terms of socio-economic development in Cambodia. Chinese financial assistance – grants, loans – to Cambodia is playing a significant role in poverty reduction and building infrastructure."

China providing cash for roads and dams

Cambodia emerged around 10 years ago from decades of civil strife with its infrastructure shattered. Donor money has helped to rebuild some of that. China is providing plenty of cash for roads and investment projects such as hydropower dams.

Its assistance is welcome, but the small-print of those infrastructure deals has come in for scrutiny – from the opposition, from civil society, even from the International Monetary Fund.

The opposition party says the deals for the dams – which are funded by China, and which will be built and operated by Chinese firms on a 30-year basis – are not transparent, and riddled with corruption.

China not necessarily a good teacher

For its part, the IMF is concerned that Phnom Penh’s blanket guarantee to buy all the power produced by the dams could prove unaffordable, and might even jeopardize the country’s fight against poverty.

Chea Vannath said that apart from its infrastructure needs, Cambodia also needed to continue rebuilding its institutions of democratic governance. She worried that China was not a good teacher when it came to human rights and governance.

"With the money come a lack of transparency and a lack of democratic governance – not just governance, but democratic governance – the participation of people in state affairs. That concerns us. Yes, it concerns me."

It concerns others too. But those concerns were not voiced publicly by the Chinese or Cambodian officials, so one could perhaps assume they do not share them. Possibly their interests lie elsewhere.

Author:Robert Carmichael
Editor: Anne Thomas Read more!

The Cambodian Nightmare and the American Dream

Nil Samorn can't go home again. He's an American now, for better and worse.

By Kitry Krause

"I don't know why they didn't kill me," says Nil Samorn. In 1975, he and a number of other low-ranking officers in the Cambodian army were trucked by armed Khmer Rouge guerrillas to a fortified temple in the jungle of northwest Cambodia. While others around him were brutally executed, he waited.

Samorn had quit school to enlist in the army in 1970, shortly after Prince Sihanouk, who had ruled Cambodia since the French put him in power in 1941, was overthrown by the U.S.-backed Lon Nol. The right-wing general soon widened the growing civil war between the government troops and the communist Khmer Rouge, who had quickly gained Sihanouk as their nominal head. Lon Nol doubled the number of the republic's troops by drafting young men and boys, who were driven into battle knowing little more than where the triggers on their rifles were. Their officers were often inept, and many pocketed U.S. funds intended for supplies. More than a million people, in a country of only seven million, died in this war before the Khmer Rouge won in 1975.

Samorn had enlisted because he hoped to be--and was--assigned to the unit in which his father was a lieutenant. "He felt like he could protect me, and I felt like I could be protected by him," Samorn says. He eventually became an officer in the propaganda branch, which was so disorganized that the soldiers often invented work for themselves. Samorn had always liked theater, dance, and music, so he studied and promoted Cambodian culture. When his unit was finally forced to surrender, its senior officers made a list for the Khmer Rouge of all those under their command. "The high-rank officers were under pressure. They didn't know that something terrible would happen," says Samorn. "They thought that they were usable, and they thought that the Khmer Rouge new government would need them to work." The last time he saw him, his father was being driven away in a truck by the Khmer Rouge.

Samorn and thousands of other soldiers were first marched at gunpoint to a large field. There they waited, building shelters and foraging for food, while the Khmer Rouge decided what to do with them. Three months later Samorn was trucked to the temple prison, where he was told he would have to wait until higher-ups gave the order to send him to a reeducation camp. For several days he waited. One night his uncle stole into the temple. "When he first heard that I was there, he didn't even want to come see me," says Samorn. "He just felt-- He was afraid. He and I were like twins. We used to sleep together in the same room, we went to school together, we did almost everything together. And many important things we never decided without each other. And then when I met him, he was very, very strange. He didn't smile. It was completely different from what I expected. I thought 'Oh, when we met the first time, we would be very, very happy because we were separated for a long time.' He just told me 'I don't know why you are here, but nobody can do anything now. Everybody, if they're put in this place, they will be killed the next day.' That just scared me more. I was just 21. He just warned me like that, and then he left." But the next day Samorn and some 20 other men who held the same military rank were released and given permission to search for their families. Samorn assumes the Khmer Rouge simply made a mistake, for many men of his rank were killed in other prisons.

Samorn found his uncle, who told him where his mother was working. Samorn then set out to find her. "The first time when I came to meet her, she didn't believe it. I came to meet her at dusk--in Cambodia, it's almost dark. Nobody in my family--my brothers, my sisters--they didn't believe that I was alive." He laughs softly. "And they thought that I was a ghost when I came." But Samorn knew that staying with his mother put her in danger and went back to where his uncle was working. His uncle managed to keep Samorn out of the way of the Khmer Rouge for a while, but soon the two of them, along with three friends from the temple prison who joined them, were assigned to one of the "mobile teams." They worked wherever they were told, digging irrigation ditches and building dikes, doing the heaviest work there was.

Most of the people of Cambodia--young and old--were forced to work all day every day in the rice fields. They were part of a state plan to modernize the country quickly, a project that was to be paid for through a huge increase in the production of rice--rice that the people were rarely allowed to eat, rice that was often shipped to China, the major supporter of the Khmer Rouge, to pay for weapons.

Anyone who has seen The Killing Fields has some idea of the sadistic brutality of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. But Haing Ngor, who played Dith Pran in the film, writes in his biography that he complained that director Roland Joffe wasn't making the Khmer Rouge look anywhere near as bad as they had been. Joffe told him that if he showed the Khmer Rouge the way they really were, no one would go to the film.

The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of an estimated two million Cambodians. They died of exhaustion, of exposure, of starvation, of disease. They were tortured, shot, disemboweled, and hacked to death with hoes. The ethnic minorities--the Vietnamese, the Muslim Cham, the Chinese--were some of the first to be killed or driven out of the country by the intensely nationalistic Khmer Rouge. The educated and those who had worked for the government were next. Soon no one was safe; the Khmer Rouge purged many of their own. Only a few people had managed to flee across the border to Thailand in the first few months after the Khmer Rouge took power. Those who remained have seen the unimaginable.

Samorn is now 34 and has lived in the United States for the past eight years. He has learned English, has a car and an apartment, recently opened a video store, and works to help those in his community who came after him--all of these outward signs that he is settling in. Yet the unfathomable cruelty of his years under the Khmer Rouge remains at the center of his life, wrapped by a continual longing for the things that were best about his homeland. Samorn is a quiet, gracious man, and he tells me his story--sometimes with great difficulty--because he believes it may help other families in his community. There are 5,000 Cambodian refugees now living in Chicago, most of whose lives continue to be shaped by what they have endured and lost.

As a member of a mobile team, Samorn saw the horrors repeated and varied. "Nobody knew how the system operated--you know, who made the decisions, and what came from where," he tells me. "But the local leader could make the decision to kill anybody he wanted. Some villages, even all the people. Some villages--thousands of people--and just several people would survive. Some villages, just old women survived."

Most of the others in Samorn's team had been students--which placed them in as much danger as Samorn's old military rank placed him; on a different team, he says, he probably would have been betrayed and killed. Nevertheless, he says, "I had to be stronger than the others. [The Khmer Rouge] suspected my background. They suspected, but they didn't kill me because I worked very hard."

After two years, Samorn heard rumors that he was to be killed. But he had managed to keep hidden his army compass and he had drawn a rough map of the area over which his team moved--30 to 40 miles from the Thai border. "Every day, every minute, I planned to escape to Thailand," he says. He and 23 others from his team, including one of his friends from the temple prison, escaped in April 1978. "I found out that if I stayed just another several days, I would have been killed--because they had traced me." For two days and nights they walked, without food or water. Six of them were shot and killed by a patrol; his friend collapsed, and Samorn was forced to go on without him. Later he found out that his two other friends from the temple, who had been assigned to another village, were killed after he escaped simply because they had been his friends.

A second group escaped after his. "They just heard a rumor that my group already was in Thailand with an American team, and we got very good pay, and we were treated well. That's why they escaped. Almost all of the men in my battalion and my village, they escaped--just followed my group. Almost all of them were killed. One group--106 people--102 were killed.

Samorn's uncle, who had been living in a different village, escaped in a third group; the one man who survived told Samorn that he had seen him captured by the Khmer Rouge. "He could have gone with me," Samorn says softly. "If there was enough time, I would have gone to get him. But there wasn't enough time. It happened, my escape, though I planned it for a long time--Whatever you want to do with the Khmer Rouge, you have to be very, very quick. You plan, and when you decide, you have to act right away." He sits silent for a long moment. "It's too bad," he says, his voice nearly breaking. "I just feel sorry for him and the others who lost-- He was really, really good."

The rumors that Samorn's group was living well were false. They had, in fact, been immediately arrested and imprisoned by Thai soldiers, who assumed they were Khmer Rouge. "They shaved my head, and they put chains on my ankles, and I had to work every day," Samorn says. "But it was better than in Cambodia." At that time the Khmer Rouge were fighting the Thai along the border, and Thai troops killed many Cambodian refugees. Samorn says his group was the first to be released alive from a Thai prison. Eleven of his friends headed back to Cambodia to fight with a newly formed resistance group; every one of them was killed in an ambush. Samorn was finally sent to a refugee camp inside Thailand, along with a number of other Cambodian refugees.

Back in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge had stepped up their war against one of their country's historical enemies, Vietnam. The Vietnamese had long supported the Cambodian communist movement, but the Khmer Rouge leadership claimed that the Vietnamese wanted far too much control of their party and that they had always wanted to annex Cambodian territory. The Khmer Rouge distrusted anyone associated with the Vietnamese; Cambodian Communists who had hidden in Vietnam from Sihanouk's troops when they brutally decimated the party in the 1960s were some of the first to be purged. Hundreds of Vietnamese civilians and thousands of troops were slaughtered in Khmer Rouge raids across the border.

Their huge losses finally prompted the Vietnamese, along with many of the Cambodians who had fled to Vietnam, to invade Cambodia in late December 1978. The Vietnamese were far more numerous and far better armed than the Khmer Rouge, and they quickly advanced across the country, freeing the starving Cambodians as they went. In January 1979, they took Phnom Penh and then gradually drove the Khmer Rouge toward the Thai border. But by the end of the year, the Khmer Rouge had regrouped and were fighting across much of the country, burning rice fields and stored grain whenever they pulled out of an area. The Vietnamese did the same. The villagers, who had returned to their homes, were trapped in another war. People were starving, and there were no doctors for the sick and wounded. Then the Vietnamese installed a new government headed by Heng Samrin and Hun Sen, who had been high-level officials under Pol Pot until they escaped a purge by fleeing to Vietnam. Many Cambodians decided that a new, if lesser, horror had replaced the old, and fled to Thailand.

After the Vietnamese invaded, Samorn sent word of where he was to his mother. In June, she arrived with one of his sisters and one of his brothers. Only four of his immediate family had survived. "My next sister was killed," he tells me. "Her husband and her two children were killed. My brother next to her was killed. And the one next to the other was killed. And then the fifth and sixth ones are here. The very last one--the seventh one--he wasn't killed, but he was two years old at that time, and he died because of the malnutrition." He sits staring for a long while and finally says, "I think it's too much things to think about."

In 1979, Canada allowed Samorn's mother, brother, and sister to resettle in Montreal. Soon after, Samorn was accepted by the U.S. For most of his first year in this country, he went to school to learn English, an extraordinarily difficult language for Cambodians. English has many sounds for which there are no equivalents in Cambodian. Also, in English the past tense is formed by changing verb tenses; in Cambodian, qualifying words are added to verbs that are always present tense.

In 1981, Samorn took a job as a bilingual caseworker for the Jewish Family and Community Services resettlement program, one of the federally funded programs in Illinois that sponsor refugees, enroll them in schools, offer them counseling, help them find housing and work, and arrange for their medical care. In the years he worked there, he came to know most of the Cambodians in Chicago, and many of them well.

Last January, the funding for his position ran out. There were no similar jobs available, so he decided to go into business for himself. He and a friend opened a video store at 2658 W. Lawrence. "I like to work in social work," he says one night, sitting on the floor of his store. "I like to talk with people, help people. That's what my style, aptitude is. I worked for Jewish Family Services for almost seven years, and I went to school. And I just feel upset with refugee business, with social-service business, because of the funding cuts."

For a while he had taken college courses at night, but his low salary and some unusual expenses as a caseworker forced him to drop them. "The relationship between the bilingual worker and the clients is different from the American workers and the clients. Sometimes when I go with my clients, I have to pay for them for lunch, for dinner, for the drinks, their cigarettes, and many things. And I don't think they understand [that] very much, the administrators." Trudi Langendorf, who worked for years with Samorn at Jewish Family Services, is dismayed that Samorn was forced to quit his job. "There aren't many Cambodians who are as committed to helping everybody, no matter what their background was or how much education they had," she says. "Samorn worked day and night and was always honest, fair, and compassionate."

Samorn spends most of his day in the store. "This business," he says, "I just hope it can help me financially. I hope it's going to happen in one year or so, so that I will be able to go back to school. I miss school, and I feel sorry for the interruption, but I don't know what to do." Still, he seems to want to prove to himself that he can do something well besides social work, though he does say he's not a businessman. "I don't like business very much. I even never read newspaper business section. Never, never. First thing when I get the Tribune, I just throw away the business section." He starts laughing. "I don't know what is interesting in that section."

Some of the Cambodians who know him seem surprised at his decision to go into business. One afternoon, a neighbor teased him about his plans. Later I asked him what she had said. He laughed. "She thought that I might rent a movie to people, and then people will not pay me, and then they will not return the film, and that I will just do nothing. And then just go out of business."

He had teased back. An American friend explained something to the neighbor in English, assuming that Samorn would translate. Instead, Samorn only asked a short question in Cambodian. The neighbor looked confused and then started laughing. "I ask her if she understands," he said, laughing hard. "I was just teasing her. She knows how I am. The people here know me very well. They know I am funny."

Most of the Cambodian refugees who now live in Chicago spent years in Thailand's disheartening refugee camps. When they were finally accepted by the United States, they were put on a plane and set down in frantic, urban America. Difficulties and conflicts were inevitable and often predictable. For one thing, most of the refugees came with little money and few possessions. For another, most of them had no established community in Chicago to welcome and support them when they arrived. In addition, American policies require that refugees be pushed into jobs as quickly as possible. But most of the older refugees were rice farmers or housewives who had lived subsistence lives and had received little education. Very few spoke much English. As a result, many adults have had to take low-paying, low-skilled jobs that don't require them to talk much and that pay badly. Many of those who were highly trained--doctors, teachers--found they could not get jobs in their professions.

Of course, the young have learned English much faster than their parents and find it easier to move among Americans. Their parents and grandparents must often depend on them to translate and to go with them when they go out, and that dependency is hard on each generation. "It takes its toll on the kids," says Bill Dolnick, who worked with refugees for more than eight years. "The kids can't necessarily be kids. The roles are reversed. It's a big problem--it really winds up being very hard on the kids with the parents depending on them. And it's hard on the parents. It's demeaning to be dependent on your children, particularly in a culture where age is a sign of acquired wisdom and respect."

There were other obvious difficulties. The new arrivals had to endure our bitter winters, remember to lock doors, and find edible food. "I can't eat American food for three days," says Samorn. "Not at all. It's good food, and it is inspected well. I mean, compared to Cambodia. Cambodian kids like it a lot. They like hamburger, milk, apple, salad. They got that from school." He starts laughing. "And for me, it's no. No, I cannot have it for three days--you know, if they just give me Whoppers, or Big Macs, or salad, or any kind of sandwich."

But there are also other subtle social and psychological problems that persist even after refugees have been here for years. "Cambodia was a dictatorship, and here it's democratic rule," says Samorn. "But social freedom, I think, in Cambodia is much better. You can, you know, cut the tree, and build a canoe, and then push it in the river, and then go around. But you cannot do it here. Some people might look at it a different way. They say 'Well, you were in the refugee camp, and before you were in the refugee camp you were in an undeveloped country--you didn't have a happy life like you got here now.' Some people might judge that way, but I think it's not completely right.

"Here people talk about adjustment. When they mean for people that they adjust well here, I don't know how much they mean or what it means for them. But in broader terms, I think it's difficult for people to adjust. Even for myself. I still feel sorry for many things in Cambodia. Maybe they just mean people have a job, have a car, and go shopping, know how to go to the bank, know the resort place. I think they might think, 'Well, that's enough. That's OK.' But psychologically I don't think it's OK at all.

"When I go to the restaurant here, I always, always--not just sometimes--I always imagine that it is in Cambodia: 'If I am now in Cambodia, eating this kind of food in the place that I used to go to when I lived in Cambodia, it might be very exciting for me.' When I go shopping, when I go for a walk, it's still not like walking in Cambodia used to be. Many people still imagine about being in Cambodia. Oh, it's like if we go to the beach, we say 'Well, if this was a Cambodian beach, and it was a lot of Cambodians around here, it might be very, very exciting.' And that means you are not adjusted well, right? You are not so happy with what is in front of your eyes at all. You enjoy it, but it's not completely the joyful thing for you."

Samorn has never married. "That's one thing that upsets me," he says. "If I was in Cambodia, I might already have some children. But since I'm here, I just feel like marriage here is not very exciting and is not as good as in Cambodia."

Yet the past that they remember as good--or even as idyllic--is separated from the present by a broad river of pain. In his report on refugee mental-health issues for the Illinois Department of Mental Health, Bill Dolnick cites a 1985 study of Southeast Asian refugees that found that virtually all the Hmong and Cambodians studied fell into a category the researchers labeled "severe problem-indicative distress." Dolnick says, "Virtually everybody has recurring nightmares. They suffered a national trauma. I think we're just starting to get a sense of it." Cambodians tend to see emotional suffering as a private matter and rarely volunteer details of what they endured.

"I think there is a lot [of pain]," Samorn says. "I think crying in front of people is not acceptable. There is some point when you talk with them when they will cry." He pauses, and then says with a little pride, "I think at least my culture has the advantage from that kind of thing--that can earn the respect and the praise and the admiration of people. And people say 'Oh, they do have a very strong self-control.'"

Samorn says that he dreams the same nightmare over and over again. "At first I thought maybe I was strange," he says, "but after that I asked many people if they ever dream they are in the United States. And no. A couple of my very close friends, they told me they never dream in the United States. Only dream in Cambodia, about Cambodia, inside Cambodia--just what happened to them.

"I dreamed that I went back, and I tried to hide my passport in Thailand and sneak into Cambodia. And then I could not find a guide who could take me back to Thailand. And then I felt very, very sorry because there was chaos and communists in the country; I could not come back because there were problems over there. And why should I be stupid and decide to come and then could not get out? It's like real life, you know? I tried one time very hard to escape, and then I came to the United States, and I became a U.S. citizen, and I got everything. And why should I come back? That's in the dream. And then I try to figure out a way to escape again. And at that time you get panicked, and when you get panicked, you just wake up." He laughs softly. "And when I open up my eyes: 'Well, this is the ceiling of my Chicago apartment.' And so I was very, very happy."

Their lives under the Khmer Rouge shadow the Cambodian refugees in many ways. Samorn thinks that it is still difficult for them to trust their community leaders--and even each other. "That's how the Khmer Rouge affected the life of the Cambodian people," he says. "Because they just force you to think in a mistrustful way. Even among families. Some children reported to the Khmer Rouge in order to get something, a reward. And their parents were killed. Some brothers, sisters--they reported and had their siblings taken away so they can survive themselves."

For all that they suffered, the older Cambodians seem to be haunted by the thought of going back, even if they realize the chance of going anytime soon is poor. They talk about it often, says Samorn, and even make vague plans. "There might be something that happens that might change their mind not to go. Or they might stick to it that they have to go because they cannot control their emotion about going back. Some people even mention that they have agreed to let their children stay here, and then they will go back.

"I like to talk to people when they tell me they plan to go back and it seems like they have a very clear plan to go back. And my prediction is, I bet if they go, they will feel sorry if they stay there for a couple years or something like that. They can go to visit and come back, and I think that's good. When they are here, they feel homesick--that's why they want to go back. But if they go back, they will feel sorry that they left so many things and opportunities here."

Samorn may argue that rationally it would make little sense to move back to Cambodia, but he, too, is caught in the emotional net of home. "I still think that there is a possibility," he says, "sometime from now until the end of my life-- I still think that there will be a possibility that I can go back. I know, I already have the perception, and I already have the image of what it will look like and the places I plan to go. And how I will feel if I reach them."

The pull of Cambodia is strong even among younger Cambodians. Duong Rany was Samorn's client when he worked for Jewish Family and Community Services, and now the two are roommates. Rany last saw his parents, his three sisters, and his two brothers when he was forced to leave them in 1975, when he was only 13. Like Samorn, he was forced to work in one of the mobile teams, but he finds it extremely difficult to talk about those years. Now 25, he works for the Cambodian Association of Illinois, which places Cambodians in jobs and offers them various social services. One afternoon he stood outside his office, which is on the grimy and glass-littered block of Lawrence east of the el, describing, painfully, how homesick he gets for the green fields and fresh air of Cambodia. Then he stopped himself and said defiantly that he wants to be an American, adding that he came over when he was old enough to remember what he doesn't want to go back to.

The likelihood is that the past that was good is irretrievable, and to go back might only make what has been lost even more painfully clear. Although the Vietnamese ended the massacres, the war goes on between the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian troops and the weird coalition of resistance groups that includes Sihanouk supporters and the Khmer Rouge; Cambodia has now been at war for most of the past 20 years. The current government is repressive and hopelessly inefficient, and Cambodians are still struggling just to feed themselves. In Phnom Penh, child mortality is high, malnutrition is common, and medical services are limited. It is difficult to know what condition the countryside is in since foreign journalists are rarely allowed outside the capital and, in an atmosphere of government suspicion, Cambodians have grown reluctant to talk to them; yet there are indications that things may be much worse. It also seems that in some ways Cambodian culture is being deliberately undermined; schoolchildren, for instance, are taught Vietnamese and the Vietnamese interpretation of Cambodian history. Under international pressure, the Vietnamese are now withdrawing their troops, but no one is sure who will take their place. The great fear is that there will be another bloody civil war as the Khmer Rouge guerrillas, by far the most numerous and the best armed of those in the resistance, try to take power again.

"I'm not excited about the Vietnamese withdrawing," says Samorn, an opinion he says few Chicago Cambodians share. The press, he says, also seems to think that peace can somehow be negotiated between the current leaders, although a recent meeting went nowhere. "If the Chinese agree and the Soviets agree and if Pol Pot and Sihanouk agree--I mean, if they share the political cake for themselves--they think that's peace," he says angrily. "I don't think that's peace at all." After all, he says, "Who's going to take the guns away from the Khmer Rouge?" And even if someone could, where would the thousands of Khmer Rouge and their extended families live? "You cannot integrate them in society. These people, now even if they feel guilty, they will not be able to face the anger of people like myself. I could not live in the village with the Khmer Rouge who used to rule me before. They used to treat me badly. They killed my father. They killed my sisters. I saw their face."

For any immigrant, of course, to stay in America is to change. For some Cambodians, that change has included opportunities that were never considered in Cambodia. One day I stood outside Samorn's apartment building with a Cambodian man who smiled as he pointed at a group of children coming down the sidewalk with notebooks in their hands; he said it makes him happy that every child can go to school in this country. Duong Rany is taking classes part-time with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher; in Cambodia he had hoped to become a mechanic. "I never thought that I would become a teacher because my family was poor," he says.

"I work with many families," says Samorn, "and I can see why they change. One thing is the environment here. Something here just makes you feel a little more ambitious. Let me try to get the example. Life here is very, very challenging. You have to compete, you have to challenge in order to fulfill your ambition. And here, people just feel that's unlimited. They can get a car, they can get a house, they can get land, they can get whatever they want that's available around them if they try hard enough. It's not like that in Cambodia. In Cambodia they thought in a very limited way. In Cambodia you never thought about becoming a doctor." Which is, he says, the biggest reason that many older Cambodians will stay in this country, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. "They only care-- The future is for their children," he says.

With change comes the inevitable loss of some cultural traditions. Some disappear slowly, some are already gone. Duong Rany explained that good friends of the same sex often held hands in Cambodia, but he was told in the processing camps that that wasn't a good idea in America.

Several years ago Samorn organized a group mostly of teenagers to teach them Cambodian dances. "I loved the rehearsals," says Bill Dolnick. "You'd see all these kids, high school kids, who'd come dressed in jeans like typical American kids. And then they put on music, and suddenly they'd be doing these traditional dances. And suddenly they were no longer Americans. They were Cambodians. It's a real dramatic transformation." Last year the troupe disbanded, largely because some key members moved out of the state. Some of the remaining members recently met and decided to start dancing again.

"I value the Cambodian culture very much," says Samorn. "There are so many reasons that I started the dance troupe. I know that these kinds of things will be lost sometime, somewhere, if the community is going on like right now. Living in Chicago for 5,000 Cambodians and living five families here and five families here and ten families here--it's like a pin in the lake. It's like one piece of sugar or salt that you put in a big pot of water. It's not so easy; the community here, it is not physically squeezed, but it's like you are squeezed in the middle. You know? You just look at the other people and the other communities--you just feel that you are dominated. For example, you just feel uncomfortable if you don't go to the church where you live--in the big community that all the people around you go to the church. You know what I mean? And you cannot dress according to your culture, your custom, because people around you dress this way. And that culture, you know, will be lost little by little." He says many celebrations are still held that bring the community together; people meet at weddings, at the temples, at the frequent Cambodian Association and Chicago Refugee Women's Network events. But, he says, "I'm afraid that somehow it will happen in the future, when people don't see these kinds of things as necessary or important for the community, and it will be gone."

Samorn thinks that living together in clusters helps Cambodians hang on to an identity that still is a haven for many. "Some people contend that if they live together like that, they will have a hard time to adjust. Because they just live among themselves, they speak only Cambodian to each other. And it will be difficult for them, it will take them a long time to adjust. The way I see it, I don't think so. I think that if they live together, they will have a better life because they don't feel so depressed, they have friends around, they can communicate. We feel more comfortable to do it."

But feeling comfortable is not the only reason Samorn thinks Cambodians live together when possible. "If we live, just integrate--you know, a family in one place among the other people--we just feel that we do things that offend them. For example, like cooking food. The smell of our food might offend some people. The way we think about other things, too. Children. It is difficult, too, because we have big, big families." He says that many large Cambodian families can only afford one-bedroom apartments; but if their building is full of such families, there will be no one to object.

Their fear of giving offense, says Samorn, is part of a larger sense of inferiority that he thinks many Cambodians brought with them to this country, a feeling that is hard for the older members of the community to shake. "I don't know what taught them that they were inferior," he says. "I think they feel that the concept of inferior dominates their mind. If you go on Argyle Street, you will see many Cambodians. And if you ask most Cambodians--many Cambodian people--if they ever thought about opening a small business or a restaurant or something like that, they would not feel like they can. And not because they don't have money. I think even if they have money they don't feel like their position is owner of the restaurant."

Why don't they feel that's a possibility?

"I don't know why. I think that is what we have learned. It's like the low self-image and low self-esteem--that's what they feel."

But why?

"Well, because one thing, when they were in Cambodia, most of the time they just spend in the rice field and in the jungle. They say it's because of the class and caste culture that they have learned. There are so many things that affect and control that kind of thought. They were peasants all the time. There were no schools in the countryside. Nothing at all for them. And they just feel inferior to the urban people."

I ask him whether he sees class differences in America.

"Here there is still some kind of thing in people--the caste system, class, or something like that. But you have enough education and you give enough thought to arguing and comparing. It's like you are sick, but you have a doctor. But for us, we are sick and we don't have a doctor. I mean, that kind of thought is the disease. You have the disease, too, but you have the doctor to treat you. By doctor I mean education, the environment."

Later I ask him to explain why it is that so many Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese open businesses, while Cambodians don't. "Well, their background," he says. "They have grown up in the business environment. When they grew up, their parents were businesspeople. And I think Cambodians, most of them, were rice farmers." The major traders in Cambodia, he says, were Chinese and Vietnamese, and only rarely Cambodian. Cambodians, he adds, "might think business is not a sophisticated way to do-- You know, it's like a dishonest way when you do business. You buy something for $5, you sell back for $6 or $7. That affects your mind if you are serious. I feel that way, too, though I do business. But I don't sell anything now. I don't have anything to sell. That's one thing. And another thing involves the system. You have to go through the system in order to start your business. And Cambodians, you know, don't want to go through all the procedures."

It is late, and Samorn is sitting on the floor of his store, surrounded by boxes, boards, and paint cans. He and four other men have been working late, screwing shelves together and then painting them. For several days in a row he has worked through the night, trying to get the store ready to open.

He frequently smokes, inhaling with the deep satisfaction of the long addicted. He says he quit once for a whole year before starting the habit again. "You see many things that influence people to smoke. For example, like my heroes. I like Mike Royko and Ted Koppel more than the other people, and I rarely miss his column and his program. And I know that they both are smoking." He laughs, and then says, "It seems funny, but it's a serious thing."

Samorn follows American and world politics closely and very seriously. "I just feel like my life--the hardship, the good things, the bad things that happened to my life--many of them involve the consequence and the effect of politics," he says. "I just feel sometimes like I was victimized most of my life--up to now--by the political thing. That's why I'm interested in politics." He says he has also spent a lot of time reading everything he can find about his country and the Khmer Rouge. "When I was under the Khmer Rouge, I saw what affected my life and the current situation over there. I saw it in a very limited way. But now it's just clarified for me. It makes me know how to cope, how to tolerate. It has gotten easier for me." He says he ought to write his own book.

I ask him how much most Cambodians understand of the many intertwined reasons the Khmer Rouge came to power. How much do they know, for instance, about the heavy U.S. bombing--a half million tons--that devastated eastern Cambodia and helped drive many people there to support the Khmer Rouge?

"If you ask the Cambodian people, I'm sure that 95--more than 90 percent, they don't know anything about that at all. They don't know the connection and why. If you asked them when Americans started to drop bombs on Cambodia, they would not know. They don't know how Nixon and Kissinger practiced the politics--like what William Shawcross wrote in Sideshow. Cambodians, they don't know. It's like they were set up in a very limited place. It is like in a pond and there is only frogs. So the biggest that the frogs can be is the size of the hand. And if something happens that relates to the elephant or the buffalo, still the frog knows just about the frog and not about the elephant and, the buffalo. And it's like that. That's what the Cambodian people were. Unfortunately they were in that situation." He pauses. "I didn't know that the Congress voted to stop the aid to the Lon Nol government until I came here.

"Cambodian people were just a scapegoat, just a victim of their leaders. I just blame all the Cambodian leaders. They were not sensitive--they didn't understand anything but the power for themselves--and they just led the society to the wrong direction. I just feel sympathy for the Cambodian people." He pauses, and then adds, "Though the Khmer Rouge killed a lot of people in my family, sometimes I still feel many of them were victimized, too." Later I remark that he doesn't seem to be full of hate for the Khmer Rouge, but he shakes his head. "The degree of hate is almost the same for everybody, but the method of reacting to it is different. I just react different. I would not cut their head from their body. But I hate them the same as other people hate." After the Vietnamese invaded, he says, the Khmer Rouge who tried to hide among the other Cambodians were brutally killed.

In one way at least, Cambodian culture made it easier for cruel and unscrupulous leaders to come to power. "Cambodians lived in a culture which, I think, we call externalized--people who just believe something outside controls their life," says Samorn. "It's not that they control their lives by themselves." When the Khmer Rouge genocide began, he says, "they just accepted it. They thought it came because of karma. Karma means what you did before, and karma is like revenge. What you did before, you have to pay the price for--even if you don't know why."

But some responsibility for preventing the genocide belonged to others, Samorn says. "I know that sometimes the Cambodian tragedy was the consequence of the hypocrisy of the superpower leaders. People in the world who saw it from different points of view, they had many possibilities to help--you know, through humanitarian things, political things, economic things. Many possibilities. They should have." He pauses. "But it's hard. For other people, you get a different pain; it touches you, it moves you, and you feel and see the tragedy, but it's going to be gone soon. Because how can you think about me if you never knew me? How can you think about me who is suffering if you never knew me at all?

"I think they didn't know enough," he says. But then he adds, "They didn't do enough, the world didn't do enough. No, they didn't do enough for the Cambodian people. It was a tragedy. Sometimes it just makes me feel frustrated to talk about why the world didn't react, and sometimes it just makes me get upset and angry that they didn't use the right system to react." His words are terribly bitter, but the emotion is barely discernible in his tone.

I start to say something, and he interrupts me. "I still believe," he says gently, "that what happens to the people in the world now, it is because of just a few people who are the leaders. I mean, if they are honest enough, and if they are pure--they have a pure thought about human beings--I think they can change it. And I still believe there is a possibility that the world can change."

With Cambodia still in chaos and with an estimated 293,000 refugees on the Thai-Cambodian border, some of them in camps controlled by Khmer Rouge guerrillas where almost no contact with the outside is possible, many Chicago Cambodians believe there is a chance that someone else in their families is alive somewhere. Their search for those relatives--critical given their family-centered culture--goes on so long as there is any hope. "I feel so sorry for my family, especially my mother and father," says Duong Rany, Samorn's roommate. "When I came to the United States, many people they ask me 'How come you're never looking for your parents or your sisters and brothers?' I always tell them that I am looking for them, but I haven't been getting any news back from them--even the people who live close to my previous village never get any back from them. I sent a lot of posters with IRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], with American Red Cross, you see, to try to trace my family in refugee camps in Thailand--and also to refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border. Nobody knew where my family's at now. But I still hope at least one of them is still alive. And not all of them have got killed."

Only a few weeks ago, Samorn's mother learned that two of his grandaunts were alive. They had sent her two pictures, and Samorn laughs when he says that she didn't want to send them to him for fear he would lose them. She finally sent them registered mail. "That's two of them," Samorn says, carefully unwrapping the photos and holding them gently by the edges. "Both of them women. And both their husbands are gone and many of their children also gone. So just two of them. They didn't know I was alive and my mom was alive." He says he was so excited when he heard that he could hardly work.

Some of the relatives that have been located may want to come to this country, but the families here have no way to bring them. One afternoon a man named Kem Tieng came into the video store with his two small children and quietly sat down near Samorn on the floor. A girl from across the street came in and asked if she could rent a film, even though the store was not yet open. Samorn asked her if she wanted to fill out a membership card, and she said, "Hey, you know me." Samorn smiled, and said, "OK. Just go around and take whatever you like." When he went to help her, I asked Tieng if he was a friend of Samorn's. "No," he said, and then added, almost reverently, "He's my sponsor." Later Samorn explained that Tieng's wife, mother, brother, sister, and children have all been in Chicago since 1984. But his father is still behind in Cambodia, with no hope of emigrating because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the current Cambodian government. His father regularly steals across the Thai border to telephone Tieng collect. "He came to Thailand last time, I think," said Samorn, "and he was caught by the Thai authorities. I think he was in prison for a long time. And the family here, they try to collect the money to send there to his father's friend so that they could bribe the Thai authorities and get him out of jail. He got out of jail and crossed back to Cambodia, and now I heard that he just came to Thailand again to call the children here."

Other families know that some of their relatives are in the refugee camps in Thailand, and they assume that if they properly fill out all the required paperwork, they should eventually be able to bring their relatives to this country. But although many of these families have sent petitions through more than one agency, few have been successful in the last few years. Their helplessness causes particular anguish. Samorn guesses that most of the Chicago families have at least one relative in the camps, and that some of them are close relatives. He describes a widow with three children whose son was drafted into the resistance after he escaped to Thailand. He married, and she and the other children came to the U.S. Only later did she find out that he had stepped on a land mine and had to have both legs amputated. "She was trying very hard to get him here," says Samorn, "and I know that she has tried for several years and still nothing."

Yet reunification sometimes creates its own pain. "In many, many families there's a tremendous focus on reunifying families," says Bill Dolnick, "and they focus a tremendous amount of their energy on saving little bits of money to send over. It becomes such a major focus of their attention that when reunification finally does occur, there are often a lot of problems around it. It's not the cure-all that it's imagined, it's built up to be. Sometimes it's the family that brought the relatives that has become more Americanized, or the children have--so that it's a real wide gap. A lot of differences the rate of acculturation, expectations. A lot of expectation on the part of relatives that are brought here that might not be able to be fulfilled."

Compassion would insist that the refugee families somehow be quickly reunited, but there are many tangled reasons why they have not been. Samorn introduces me to a family that, for all the poignancy of their story, has yet to find a way through that thicket. Ros Sen is a 60-year-old grandmother who lives in Albany Park with one of her sons, Kim Orn, and her 16-year-old granddaughter, Dim Mom. Sen's youngest daughter, Kim Norm, lives nearby with her husband and two children.

One afternoon the family sits around a large mat in the park across from Ros Sen's apartment. Samorn translates their story, for though Sen has been here four and a half years, she speaks only a few words of English. Kim Norm's English is limited and she is shy about using it; Dim Mom's English comes easily and is already full of American slang. Sen is grave and almost never smiles, though when Norm's young daughter comes over and curls up in her lap, she gently strokes her head.

Until 1975, Samorn says, Sen lived with her family in Bo Pailin, a heavily jungled subprovince in southwest Cambodia. Her husband and the older of her four sons worked in mines, digging for the rubies, sapphires, and emeralds the area is famous for. Samorn adds that the rich dictator-governor of the province who controlled the mines and the miners now lives in Washington, D.C. "He's driving a cab," he says, laughing.

The family was forced out of their town when the Khmer Rouge appeared. Sen's son-in-law, who had been a Lon Nol soldier, fled. Few people had known that he was married to Sen's daughter Kim Neang, and Sen burned every picture she had of him so that no one else could find out. Most of the family managed to stay together until two years later, when Neang was forced to marry a man the Khmer Rouge picked out for her, Youk Sarun. "After you got married, you know, you could not live in the same place," says Samorn. "They assigned you to someplace else." That was the last time the family saw Neang.

When the Vietnamese invaded, the family members who are now in Chicago escaped across the border; the three other sons, fearing their young children couldn't make it, stayed behind. Soon after the family arrived in Chicago in 1984, they sent pictures of themselves to be posted in the camps in Thailand. A year later their old Bo Pailin neighbor, Kong Savoth, recognized them and sent word to Neang, who, he knew, was living in Thailand with her new husband and their two young daughters.

"OK. This is the story," Samorn says. "When the Vietnamese came in, some people escaped to the Vietnamese side. But some people were evacuated by the Khmer Rouge. Neang was evacuated by the Khmer Rouge. And she was with the Khmer Rouge for a while, and then she escaped the Khmer Rouge and split into Thailand. Then she found a Thai family who took her to live with them." Sen has a snapshot that her daughter sent her at that time of the two little girls sitting squeezed together in a chair in front of their parents. Then in 1986, Savoth sent Sen a letter in which he wrote: "When I got your letter of May 4, 1986, it didn't seem that you had received my letter. I sent one letter on March 18, 1986 to explain what happened to your daughter and family. Both your daughter and son-in-law were killed March 8, 1986, by Thai robbers."

Sen's family sent Savoth $300 so that he could pay the bribes it took to move the children to the border camp Sok Sann, where Savoth's family lives. Soon after, Sen's family filed the first petition to bring the children to America. By the end of the year, there had been no response. Frustrated, the family filed another petition through another agency. For several more months they heard nothing.

There was, in fact, nothing to tell. No one was being interviewed or processed in Sok Sann, none of whose inmates are officially considered refugees--and therefore virtually none of whom are eligible to be resettled in a third country. These people are instead known as "displaced persons," a qualification decided on by the Thai government with the acquiescence of the United Nations and the rest of the world. Of the 293,000 Cambodians in camps on the border or inside Thailand, 270,000 are now considered displaced persons. Many of them have lived in the camps for years. They cannot go to a third country, and they cannot go back to Cambodia as the current government there considers them traitors for having fled or for fighting in the resistance. The camps have changed little over the years; in many, conditions remain terrible. Food is limited, schools are rare, and work is almost nonexistent, but violence and suicides are increasingly common. To step outside the camps is to risk being killed by Thai guards, Cambodian bandits, or land mines.

Thailand doesn't want to do anything that would encourage more Cambodians to cross its border in hopes of going to the United States or anywhere else. It maintains that it was forced to adopt such policies because third countries have been unwilling to accept more than a few of those that it has labeled refugees. In 1987, only about 30,000 refugees from all of Southeast Asia were admitted to the U.S., which takes many more of them than other countries. Only about 1,500 of those were Cambodian. In total since 1975, the U.S. has accepted about 145,000 Cambodians.

Even if Sen's grandchildren could be considered for resettlement in the U.S. as refugees, they would not be seen as close relatives, and therefore would not be given the priority of other cases. Of those who technically might have priority--first priority being given to those who worked with the U.S. government before 1975--many have not been processed because there have been too few Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers to review their cases, a shortage due to budget cuts under the Reagan administration. And of those whose cases have been reviewed, many have been rejected as INS interpretation of U.S. policies has grown stricter and, some say, arbitrary. Until there is a change in U.S. practice, or until there is political stability in Cambodia and people are once again free to emigrate, many of the Chicago families who want to bring relatives to live with them probably will not be able to.

In June of 1987, Sen received from the international agency that coordinates resettlement a telex suggesting that she file a "humanitarian parole" request as "the only avenue for processing of children." However, few refugee caseworkers have resorted to this type of petition, which may be used only when no other option is possible and when strict conditions are met. Only about 700 Cambodians have come to the U.S. through such petitions; 300 more are now being processed. Although the two children certainly seem to meet the qualifications for consideration, the Thai would still have to give INS officials permission to interview them. Even after permission is granted, and it may not be, the process of bringing the children here could take months.

The children may not have months. At the end of June, another letter arrived from Savoth in which he wrote: "Sok Sann camp will be moved farther inside Cambodia if the Vietnamese withdraw. If they don't, I don't know what will happen. If Sok Sann camp moves, the new location will be in Som Lot in Battambang province, the place where there is a lot of malaria. If you want to bring the two children to the United States, you should do it before December of this year because it's far from Thailand to that new place." The closing of Sok Sann may be just a rumor, but Trudi Langendorf says that the refugees in the camps often have the best information.

Sen's family has had good news in the past couple of months. One of Sen's sons was released from prison in Cambodia, where he had been held by the Vietnamese for supposedly being affiliated with the Khmer Rouge. He wrote that the other two sons she left behind were also alive and working on rice farms in central Cambodia. Sen's granddaughter Dim Mom also received a letter and a photograph in late July from her father, who is now living in a camp in Thailand.

I ask whether the family will try to bring Mom's father to the U.S. Samorn asks Sen, and then says, "She feels that it's impossible. And she doesn't want him here because he married with another woman." Apparently, Mom's father had also been forced to remarry by the Khmer Rouge.

Later I ask Samorn why Sen had been so hard on him.

"I think it's the attitude, the Cambodian tradition," he says. "It is difficult for Cambodian families to get along when they have stepparents and children. That's one thing. It is not the usual thing that Cambodians adopt children or anything like that. Sen's case, I think she just thinks 'Well, he's not related to my family anymore.' He can be her son-in-law if her daughter is alive, but since her daughter is already gone, he's not related. Mom is half her daughter's blood, half that guy's blood. So the legitimate way of thinking for Cambodian people is like that: Mom and her father, it's fine because Mom is a half blood of his--but with Ros Sen, it is nothing. It puts the children in a very difficult position."

Sen's children say that not having her grandchildren here is hardest on her. It was getting late on another afternoon that I spent with the family in their apartment, and Sen had been sitting quietly without talking for some time. I asked Dim Mom to ask her grandmother whether I could come back another day.

Mom was silent for a moment and then said, "When she remembers everything, she gets upset. So that's why I dont want to ask."

"Keep in mind that what they passed through in the war is still going on in their minds, and they can't forget," said Duong Rany, who had stopped by earlier. "The youngest ones, I think, when they came to this country--everything is new. They change a lot, change fast, accept new ways, a life. The thing that's hard is for the old people."

When asked whether there are things that make Sen happy, Rany shook his head. Mom said, "Sometimes a little. If she stayed at home and do all the work, she might forget. But if she went out with somebody and saw something that she shouldn't see, she starts thinking again."

What do you mean, I asked, "something she shouldn't see"?

Mom looked down at her lap. "Like it happens to me, too, you know. And when I go somewhere and see something that I don't want to see--some people playing with their parents or something--I start thinking again."

Samorn stands behind the counter of his neat and brightly lit video store, which has been open for two weeks. Now and then someone comes in, and he carefully checks the receipts of films they return and diligently writes up new ones for films they want to rent. Two deaf men come in together, and there is a long exchange of written notes. The film they came for is out, but Samorn writes that they may reserve it if they want to. They write back that they do. A man comes in and asks if Samorn has any Mexican movies. Samorn says no, and the man says he should. "I think we will have in the future," says Samorn obligingly.

I ask him what can help dull the pain he sees in the Cambodian community.

"Some of the people who are knowledgeable in the psychological concept, they just think that things might go away if people can have something more interesting and more serious to dominate their thought," says Samorn. "I don't think so. I think there is nothing else that is more serious or that could dominate the experiences that people got during the Khmer Rouge. I don't think it will be gone. You think, just to some degree how you can adjust to it. How you can adjust to your old pain and your old experiences. I just feel--even if I die and my spirit is still alive, my body gone--this kind of thing stays. I could forget what I ate yesterday. But this kind of thing, it's like nothing else. There is the whole picture of that time in my brain. I can remember well almost everywhere I went and every day at that time."

His own pain includes more than what he saw done to others, more than what was done to him. "I feel guilty that my uncle could not survive," he says. "I feel guilty that my father could not survive. I feel guilty that my sister and brother could not survive. What makes me feel guilty is I just feel like I do have the intelligence to manage my life to survive. Why could I not use that intelligence to help the loved ones to survive the same way as I do? That's one thing that can make me feel guilty. And the other thing-- Like my uncle, he escaped because he heard the rumor that I was alive and I was in Thailand. And he came to look for me. And I just feel, well, that's what motivated him. Because of me, it motivated him to escape, and then his life was ended because of me." He pauses. "I feel guilty for my brother, my sister, and many other people."

It is a long time before he goes on. "To heal it completely, I don't think there is any way to help people do it, you know. This kind of thing, it's terrible." He starts talking quickly and forcefully of his constant fear when he lived under the Khmer Rouge. "It happened to you every second, every day. Even if you sleep. Before I slept, I was very afraid. I was thinking about what I would-- Well, I was afraid if I would be ridiculed, and I might say something that was wrong. Every second, you never thought of anything else. And these things happen to you for months, for years. And how can it be taken away?"

I say that since he wants to stay in social work, he must believe that it is valuable. He agrees that it does help the refugees to deal with their pain. "Psychology is one of the means that goes a very long distance in helping the psychological problem," he says. "But it's not the end of the problem. For example, you came through this kind of thing, and when you pass it and you get to another thing that's more interesting, you feel excited. And people might misinterpret it and think that if you get to the other more interesting thing and feel excited, you might forget that thing. For example, like when people passed the test, the interview, to come to the United States for resettlement, they were very excited. I myself, I was very excited. I felt like, OK, I would see the new world, the completely new world that's very different--much, much different from what I came through. And it happened right away--at the same time when you are on the plane, and the plane was landing in the U.S., and you saw the lights, the beautiful lights, and you saw a building, the skyscrapers, and you saw cars around and people around--everything different from what you just went through. And you were very excited. You feel like, OK, this is my new life, and my life will be changed. But after you adjust to these things, the old thing begins to happen in your mind again. It comes back."
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