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Monday, February 15, 2010

PM Hun Sen orders preparation of legal documents for Preah Vihear case

According to web media sources in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is preparing legal documents to lodge with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague complaints relating to long-standing border disputes with Thailand.

Mr. Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, said the ministry has received orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen to prepare the documents for the Preah Vihear case. He also said that Cambodia will take the border case with Thailand to both the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) and to the UN Security Council.

The spokesman said Cambodia has not lodged the legal complaints with the IJC yet, but it had already informed the court of its intention to lodge the complaints.

In the meantime, Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday said his government is taking diplomatic measures to ensure tension with neighboring Cambodia does not worsen. Thailand does not want to confront Cambodia and is doing what it can to prevent harm coming to people living on both sides of the border, adding that both countries need to take the utmost caution.

Tension has centered on the 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple, which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded to Cambodia in 1962. But it did not rule on the surrounding land, which both countries claim. The relationship between the two nations has been tense for more than a year with sporadic clashes between troops near the disputed area surrounding the temple. Much of the border between the two countries has yet to be demarcated.

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Khmer Rouge 'First Lady' threatened co-leaders: prosecutor

PHNOM PENH: The Khmer Rouge “First Lady” has threatened her fellow former regime leaders and prison guards at least 70 times while detained at Cambodia’s UN-backed genocide court, a prosecutor said Monday.

The allegation was made as the former minister of social affairs, Ieng Thirith, 78, appealed for her release before she is tried for crimes against humanity and genocide for her role in the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge government.

She is one of five top regime figures detained at the court, which was set up to try leaders of the movement which killed up to two million people through starvation, overwork, torture and execution.

“She regularly and violently, on at least 70 occasions, threatened co-detainees at the detention facility and also threatened guards at the detention facility,” prosecutor Vincent de Wilde told judges.

The prosecutor argued that if Ieng Thirith was released before her trial, expected to begin next year, she could “instil fear in victims and potential witnesses”.

In her previous appeal last year, Ieng Thirith said in a tirade that those who called her a murderer “will be cursed to the seventh level of hell”, blaming atrocities on Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea and prison chief Duch.

Nuon Chea and Duch are being held with Ieng Thirith in the jail at the court along with her husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, and the regime’s head of state, Khieu Samphan.

The bespectacled Ieng Thirith sat with her arms folded during most of Monday’s hearing, delegating her lawyers to plead on her behalf.

Her defence team said her outburst last year showed she was “very vulnerable” and asked prosecutors “not to make any inflammatory statements”.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998. Final arguments in the court’s first trial, that of Duch, real name Kaing Guek Eav, ended in November and a verdict is expected after April this year. -- AFP

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Thai embassy to help Thai convicted of laying landmine in Cambodia

Thai embassy in Cambodia will offer aid to a Thai convicted of planting landmines along Thai-Cambodia border and was sentenced to 20 years in jail, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said recently.

The diplomats are looking into what assistance the government is able to provide, Kasit said.

In a hearing last week, Suphap Vong Pakna confessed to planting at least five explosive devices along the Cambodia-Thailand border, claiming Thai soldiers paid him to do so.

Pakna's lawyer says his client received a fair trial. "I think he is getting a fair judgment according to the evidence and his confession, because the court reduced the jail term from 30 to life imprisonment to 20 years in prison based on our terror law, article 75."

The 39-year-old was arrested in February of last year after he allegedly entered Cambodian territory and laid landmines.

A Thai investigation reportedly found Russian-made landmines in the area which they say were recently planted and of a type that Thai soldiers have never used.

Thai authorities said the findings suggested that Cambodia may have been guilty of breaking the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, which bans signatories from using anti-personnel mines.

Cambodia, however, dismissed the accusation, saying any landmines in the area were remnants of the three-decade war.

The group Landmine Monitor says mined border areas between Cambodia and Thailand have the highest concentration of landmines in Cambodia.
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Abuses of Cambodian Addicts in Detention Is Widespread, Report Says


PHNOM PENH — Nguyen Minh Tam said he got used to the routine during three months in a government drug detention center, although he sometimes lost consciousness: three punches to the chest when he woke up in the morning and three more before he went to bed.

Another heroin addict said he was whipped until he passed out with a twisted metal wire as thick as his thumb. “They used a blanket to cover me and they beat me,” said the detainee, who insisted that only his first name, Chandara, be used. “There were 10 of them beating me.”

Ban Sophea, on the other hand, an emaciated man who supports his heroin habit by collecting used cans and bottles, said things were quite different for him during a carefully monitored 10-day detention.

“They gave us medicine three times a day from a bottle that looked like a whisky bottle,” he said. “The rest of the time we just wasted time and ate. They let us dance and eat cake. We were eating all the time.”

These treatments — both the physical abuse and the involuntary administration of an experimental drug — have stirred concern in Cambodia since they were documented recently by the New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch.

In a report last month, Human Rights Watch described in detail abuses in 11 government-run centers that included electric shocks, beatings, rape, forced labor and forced donations of blood.

“Sadistic violence, experienced as spontaneous and capricious, is integral to the way in which these centers operate,” the report said. “Human Rights Watch found the practice of torture and inhuman treatment to be widely practiced throughout Cambodia’s drug detention centers.”

This description echoes a separate Human Rights Watch report, also issued in January, about compulsory drug detention centers in China that it said deny their inmates treatment for drug dependency and “put them at risk of physical abuse and unpaid forced labor.”

In Cambodia, the government dismissed the report as being “without any valid grounds” but did not address most of its allegations.

“The centers are not detention or torture centers,” said Meas Virith, deputy secretary of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, at a news conference early this month. “They are open to the public and are not secret centers.”

In December, the government tried another approach that also drew criticism from rights groups and health professionals: administration of an experimental herbal drug imported from Vietnam but not registered for use in Cambodia.

Twenty-one drug users were taken to one of the drug treatment centers and administered a potion called “bong sen” for 10 days before being released to their homes or to the streets. No systematic follow-up was done, and the national drug authority conceded that at least some of those treated returned to drug use.

“No information is known to exist as to the efficacy of this claimed medicine for the detoxification of opiate dependent people, nor to its side effects or interactions with other drugs,” said Graham Shaw, an expert on drug dependence and harm reduction with the World Health Organization in Phnom Penh, in a briefing note in early December.

Like its neighbors, Cambodia has experienced a surge in recent years in the use of methamphetamines, known here and in Thailand as “crazy medicine.” A smaller number of people are heroin users.

Vietnam has a network of drug treatment centers and is reported to be widely using the herbal drug in detoxification treatments. In 2003, Thailand embarked on a “war on drugs” in which an estimated 2,800 people said to be dealing drugs were summarily shot and killed.

Apart from the 11 government-run centers, drug users in Cambodia have few places to turn for help with their addictions. In some cases, desperate families commit their relatives to the centers, but most former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had been locked up there against their will.

The centers appear to be used not only for drug users but as a means to clear the streets of vagrants, beggars, prostitutes and the mentally ill, according to Human Rights Watch and the reports of other former detainees.

Government figures for drug use in Cambodia are unreliable and range from about 6,000 to 20,000. The United Nations has estimated that as many as half a million people in Cambodia may be drug users.

In 2008 the National Authority for Combating Drugs reported that 2,382 people were detained in government drug detention centers, almost all of them involuntarily. Some families, with no other recourse, pay the centers to take in relatives for what they hope will be a cold-turkey cure.

“If Cambodian authorities think they are reducing drug dependency through the policy of compulsory detention at these centers, they are wrong,” said the report by Human Rights Watch. “There is no evidence that forced physical exercise, forced labor and forced military drills have any therapeutic benefit whatsoever.”

Like other former detainees, Mr. Tam, 25, an ethnic Vietnamese, said he was committed involuntarily along with other drug users and street people. He confirmed allegations in the report that a number of the detainees were children.

He described what he called the “eight punishments” — painful and humiliating exercises that included rolling shirtless on the ground, running into walls and a series of physical contortions with names like leopard crawl, hopping like a frog, vampire jumping and shooting Rambo.

“I think this is not treatment; this is torture,” he said.

As soon as he was released, he said, he resumed his heroin habit.

“Inside you are thinking of drugs all the time,” he said. “When you come out you are free to use again.”

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Cambodia: Besieged Ratanakiri minorities to reap benefits of growing ecotourism

TOURISM to the remote northeast is booming, say Ratanakkiri provincial tourism authorities, who argue the province's ethnic minority communities are uniquely placed to benefit from the upswing in visitors to the region.

Feb 14, 2010 – TOURISM to the remote northeast is booming, say Ratanakkiri provincial tourism authorities, who argue the province's ethnic minority communities are uniquely placed to benefit from the upswing in visitors to the region.

Despite a global economic downturn that has seen international arrivals to the Kingdom decrease, Ratanakkiri welcomed 90,744 visitors in the first nine months of the year, up 12 percent on the same period last year.

Pal Vuth, director of the tourist office in the provincial capital Banlung, said international visitor numbers - numbering 15,236 this year to September - had been boosted by the improved road and air links to the province, including the opening of the international border into Vietnam's Gia Lai province earlier in the year.

"There is now more transportation and more services, [and] an international border crossing so tourists can cross from Vietnam directly into [Ratanakkiri]," he said, adding that visitors were drawn to the national parks and the ethnic minority villages that dot the province.

At the end of October, China announced it was providing Cambodia an US$80 million loan to pave the 118km stretch of road linking Banlung to National Road 7 at Stung Treng's O'Pong Moan, which tourism officials say will further increase tourist traffic.

Ecotourism potential Deputy Provincial Governor Sim You Song said local authorities were focusing on the province's ecotourism potential, promoting its natural beauty as an alternative to more expensive Asian destinations.

"We have promoted the tourism industry by informing people in the cities to visit the northeast region of Cambodia, particularly Ratanakkiri, rather than visit other countries," he said.

Another of the province's exotic attractions - its patchwork of distinct ethnic minority groups - is likely to witness the effects of the increase in tourist numbers, with local communities saying a growth in ecotourism could help preserve the local environment.

In Ratanakkiri, the government grants natural attractions to minority communities as "community commissions", which allow groups to maintain the sites independently.

Pal Vuth said that under the commissions, such as the one controlling Yeak Loam, a volcanic lake 5km from Banlung, the majority of money earned from the tourist sites goes to preserving the natural beauty of the sites.

"Since they live nearby, it is easy for them to manage tourist sites. The benefits belong to the communities," he said.

Trach Noung, a representative of the Tumpuon community-run Yeak Loam Lake Tourism Management Committee, said the community earned around 800,000 riels per month from admissions to the lake, which were poured directly into improving infrastructure at the site.

"To attract more tourists to Yeak Loam Lake, we try to keep everything around the lake in a natural state," he said. Six other sites, including lakes and waterfalls, are controlled in this way by local communities.

Cultural preservation Some community representatives also hope ecotourism will encourage the preservation of traditional customs.

Van Sokim, 25, a Krung indigenous representative from Tangkropu village in Ratanakkiri's O'Chum district, said his community welcomed tourists for the financial benefits, but said it could also help preserve indigenous traditions.

"Krung indigenous people do not care about their culture, they do not wear their traditional dress," he said. "If there were tourists visiting the community, people would preserve their culture in order to attract tourists."

Ek Yothin, provincial program director of the Indigenous Community Support Organisation, agreed that tourism offered many benefits to minority communities.

"The positive effect is that communities can benefit from selling the visitors arts and crafts," he said.

However, a fresh influx of outsiders could accelerate other developments that are eroding traditional cultural practices, he said.

"Some people come as tourists to assess the land of the villagers, to see what the possibility is for a rubber plantation. They do not come to help the community," he added.

Dam Chanthy, the Jarai director of the Banlung Highland Association, said tourism would be hurt by the threat of land-grabbing by rich businessmen, cases of which have multiplied across the province since 2004.

The Jarai village of Kong Yu, in O'Yadao district, is currently fighting a high-profile case against Keat Kolney, sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, over 450 hectares of communal land she claims to have purchased in 2004.

"If there is land-grabbing among ethnic minorities, it will strongly affect the number of tourists," Dam Chanthy said. "Most tourists want to see places where ethnic minority people live and farm, but if those lands are grabbed, where will they live and farm?"

Pal Vuth said that tourism, properly managed, could help preserve indigenous culture.

"The tourism authorities never talk about tribal peoples' tradition," he said. "The government takes care of Angkor Wat but ... [it] does not motivate tribal people to maintain their traditions."
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