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Sunday, July 31, 2011

For these doctors, giving their hearts to those in need

Group brings Cambodian children to Korea for free life-saving operations

Hundreds of Cambodians wait in line to receive medical care from Korean doctors, who went on an annual volunteer trip last year to Kampong Speu, Cambodia. Members of the KCSC are scheduled to leave on Aug. 8 for this year’s weeklong trip. Providedthe KCS by C

Seven-year-old Loeng Sonisa received the gift of life last Monday after receiving an all-expenses-paid heart surgery at Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital in Bucheon, Gyeonggi.

Loeng Sonisa, who hails from a small Cambodian village, was one of three children invited to the hospital to receive free life-saving operations.

The three children - Loeng Sonisa, 7; Run Sokry, 9; and Taing Guuochly, 9 - all suffer from ventricular septal defect, or holes in the wall that separates the right and left ventricles of the heart.

Since 2002, the nonprofit Korean Community for Service in Cambodia (KCSC) has sponsored three children with heart diseases each year to come to Korea and receive treatment at SCHU Hospital.

Comprised of SCHU Hospital staff and members of Bucheon Jeil Church, which is adjacent to the hospital, the KCSC aims to provide free medical care to Cambodians in poverty, including annual summer trips to Cambodia’s neediest regions.

The organization was started in the summer of 2002 after a group of doctors from SCHU Hospital visited Cambodia for volunteer work, not knowing then that the trip would become an annual event. Realizing the lack of modern medical care in the country, the KCSC was formed to help more than just a few people each year.

Among the doctors on the 2002 trip was Shin Won-han, director of SCHU Hospital in Bucheon, who credits the support of Seo Kyo-il, executive director of Soon Chun Hyang University, for the KCSC’s long-running success. Seo’s father was the founder of the university.

Shin recalled Seo telling doctors after the KCSC’s establishment, “In 1954, when the Korean War just ended, Korea’s medical standards were terrible. But a medical staff from the University of Minnesota visited Seoul National University at that time. Thanks to them, Korea was able to learn advanced medical techniques.”

Shin said, “That’s why Korean doctors should be the ones who help those people in developing countries like Cambodia and train doctors in advanced medical technology in these countries.”

Every August, around 20 medical staff from SCHU Hospital and members of the KCSC give up their weeklong summer vacation to treat the neediest Cambodians. Last year, a total of 26 KCSC members went to Kampong Speu Referral Hospital, a provincial hospital in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, and treated a total of 3,523 Cambodian patients and performed surgery on 60 more patients over six days.

Lee Gi-cheol, 45, chief of a dental hospital in SCHU Hospital, has never missed a trip for the past decade, saying that the annual trip to Cambodia is “part of his life.”

“Although sometimes we, the doctors, think of this trip as an extension of what we do every day, for the Cambodians who we meet, they wait for a year to see us,” said Lee. “I also believe this trip is a good opportunity for doctors in Korea to realize how lucky we are in Korea and feel compassion toward the people in Cambodia, who die every day due to lack of medical care.”

The KCSC also invites six Cambodian doctors every year to the SCHU Hospital for yearlong training. So far, a total of 43 Cambodian doctors in various departments - including general surgery, obstetrics, urology and anesthesiology - have come.

“I am learning a lot at SCHU Hospital right now,” said Chhor Kompeak, 27, a Cambodian anesthesiologist training at the hospital who arrived in early July. “I want to take the experience that I have here to Cambodia and treat the people in my country.”

Chhor Kompeak said that medical technology in Cambodia is not as advanced as in Korea so only a limited number of doctors can perform delicate operations.

“Cambodian doctors have a lot of knowledge but they rarely have the chance to watch and learn the techniques like I am doing right now in Korea,” said Chhor Kompeak.

“After a year of training, I think I will have watched diverse operations, and I want to train other doctors in Cambodia who don’t have the chance to go abroad to have such experiences.”

Shin, the KCSC director, explained that Cambodia not only lacks doctors but also facilities for doctors to receive proper training.

According to Shin, there are only 2,000 doctors in Cambodia, which has a population of 12 million, meaning that there are 6,000 people per doctor. In contrast, in Korea, there is one doctor per 600 people.

“Cambodia’s economy will gradually develop and medical facilities will also improve,” said Shin. “But improvement in medical practices cannot be achieved in a day or two. That’s why training Cambodian doctors is crucial.”

KCSC members are preparing to go on their 11th trip to Cambodia in two weeks.

And Lee, the dentist, has the date circled on his calendar.

“I feel great to be able to participate in such a meaningful journey for over a decade, but my wife and kids complain sometimes because I haven’t spent my summer vacation with my family for ten years,” said Lee, chuckling.

“I may have to skip next year to calm my wife down.”

By Yim Seung-hye []
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New border gates to Cambodia opened

BINH PHUOC - Viet Nam and Cambodia yesterday opened another pair of border posts, Hoa Lu in Viet Nam's Binh Phuoc Province and Trapeang Sre in Cambodia's Kratie Province.

This is the fifth of seven pairs of border posts the two countries agreed to open under a road transport agreement signed in 1998 and a protocol signed in 2005.

Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyen Ngoc Dong said the gates would not only facilitate trade and economic development between the two border provinces, but also improve co-operation between the two countries.

The four border points currently open for road transport between the two countries are Moc Bai - Bavet (Tay Ninh and Svay Rieng provinces), Tinh Bien-Phnom Den (An Giang and Takeo provinces), Xa Xia - Prek Chak (Kien Giang, Lork, Kam Pot provinces), and Xa Mat -Trapeing (Tay Ninh and Kampong Cham provinces).

Two other pairs of border crossings are expected to open later this year, including Le Thanh - Oyadav (Gia Lai and Andong Pich - Ratanakiri provinces) and Bu Prang - O Raaing (Dak Nong and Mundulkiri provinces).

Last year, two-way trade between Viet Nam and Cambodia was US$1.83 billion. At present, Viet Nam is the fourth biggest importer of Cambodian goods and Cambodia is the 16th largest importer of goods from Viet Nam.
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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cambodia to host China-ASEAN car race in October

By PNA / Xinhua and U.S. News Agency / Asian

Cambodia will host China-ASEAN car race in October this year, the first car race ever involved by Cambodia, a senior official of National Olympic Committee said Saturday.

Vath Chamroeun, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (COCC), said the car race is initiated by China in order to mark the 20th anniversary of China-ASEAN bilateral cooperation.

He said, as planned, the “2011 China-ASEAN International Touring Assembly and China-ASEAN Journalists Rally” will begin on September 9 through October 9 this year.

The rally will begin in China and go across five countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations: Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and to end up in Cambodia.

According to the schedule, Cambodia will host the end-up rally racing on October 7-8, beginning from Siem Reap province, hometown of Angkor Wat Temple to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.

Chamroeun said Cambodia is prepared to send two drivers for the race, the first ever that Cambodians directly involved in the race and as well as the host for the event.

He added the procedure for the rally-racing is free with any kinds of cars, but speed is the subject for scoring.
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Cambodia’s ‘orphan tourism’ sparks concern

Childcare experts say that volunteer teachers in impoverished country may be doing more harm than good

A foreign volunteer teacher instructs Cambodian students at an orphanage in Siem Reap province, some 300km northwest of Phnom Penh

By Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP, SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

Pictures of hundreds of former volunteers line the walls of a muddy courtyard in Cambodia’s tourist hub of Siem Reap, their faces once familiar to the orphans playing there but now long gone.

The colorful gallery at the Acodo orphanage illustrates a growing trend of holidaymakers donating their time and skills to children in the impoverished country — but experts fear they could be doing more harm than good.

Marissa Soroudi, a student in her 20s from New York, is one of the many volunteers teaching English at Acodo, near the famed temples of Angkor and home to more than 60 orphans between the ages of three and 18.

The young American, who pays US$50 a week to work at the orphanage, plans to stay for a few days before traveling on but she knows it is tough on the children to watch volunteers like her come and go.

“There are so many people volunteering that it’s kind of like, one leaves and another swoops in,” she said.

“They say better not to talk about it with them. Don’t say ‘I’m leaving in a week,’ don’t do any of that because then they get upset. Better to just not come.”

Short-term volunteers may have good intentions, but childcare experts say they are putting some of the most vulnerable children at risk.

“Constant change of caregivers gives emotional loss to children, constant emotional loss to already traumatized children,” Jolanda van Westering, a child protection specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said. “And the constant exposure to strangers poses risks of harm, of violence and abuse, because we know that oftentimes volunteers come to an orphanage without having their backgrounds checked.”

As the gateway to the ancient temples of Angkor — which attract more than a million visitors a year — a steady stream of tourists passes through the sleepy riverside town.

And many want to do more than just sightsee in one of the region’s poorest nations.

On notice boards in hotels, cafes and souvenir shops, wide-eyed children stare from posters for schools and orphanages, encouraging travelers to donate time and money for their particular cause.

“Visitors see some poverty and they feel bad about it,” said Ashlee Chapman, a project manager with Globalteer, an organization that matches volunteers with local organizations.

“They want to do something,” she adds, saying they might visit a children’s project for a few hours, donate money and toys, “take a holiday snap and feel that they’ve contributed.”

As the so-called volunteer tourism sector flourishes, so too does the number of institutions housing children.

In the past six years, the number of orphanages in Cambodia has almost doubled to 269, housing some 12,000 children, according to UNICEF.

Friends International, a local organization that works with marginalized urban children and youths, says tourism has contributed to the increase.

Visiting orphanages has become a tourist “attraction” in big cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, said Marie Courcel, alternative care project manager at Friends International.

That in turn encourages the institutionalization of youngsters, many of whom are very poor but actually have at least one living parent, she said.

Only one in 10 of the orphanages are funded by the state, the rest rely on charitable contributions to survive.

At Siem Reap’s Acodo, huddled with the children in the shade of the only tree, Soroudi organizes the afternoon activity.
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Cambodia Cleans Out The Pretenders

July 30, 2011: The Cambodian Army has been conducting a vigorous recruiting drive recently. The goal is 3,000 fit and intelligent young men. The new recruits are to replace several thousand older soldiers who were recently retired. Like many nations, Cambodia has long used the army as a jobs program. The emphasis was on keeping the 124,000 military personnel employed, not ready for war.

Cambodia found that there were serious shortcomings with this approach when, three years ago, a border dispute with Thailand turned into a military conflict. Nothing major. The action has been mostly assault rifles, machine-guns, artillery and mortars. There have been hundreds of casualties. What shocked Cambodian commanders and political leaders was how unprepared their army was for even a minor conflict like this. This led to a revitalization plan for the army, which the current recruiting drive is part of.

The border war was unexpected, even though Cambodia and Thailand have long argued over who owns how much of an ancient temple site. In 1962, an international court declared the temple Cambodian, but Thailand continued to claim adjacent areas that the Cambodians insist are part of the temple complex.

Currently, each side has about 3,000 troops near the temple site, and there have been a few shooting incidents since 2008, but nothing serious. The two countries have been negotiating the withdrawal of troops. Fighting earlier this year damaged portions of the temple (which Cambodians occupy) and caused over 20,000 local civilians to flee.

This dispute is but one of many similar ones. The basic problem is that the current 730 kilometer long border was defined in 1907 by the placement of only 73 border markers. This has left the exact location of the border open to interpretation. Occasionally these interpretations clash, as is happening now. Neither side wants a full scale war, even though Thailand has a larger and better equipped military. In the last few years, Cambodia doubled its annual military budget to $500 million. Thailand spends more than six times that, and has done so for decades. Thailand has 300,000 troops, Cambodia only 124,000.

Cambodia is very poor, and has been helped by China. which recently donated 50,000 field uniforms (including hats and boots). Last year, China donated 257 military trucks, and also supplied weapons. The infantry weapons tend to be older models. That's because China is introducing a new and improved model of their QBZ-95 assault rifle (also called the Type 95) to their own troops. The QBZ-95 is a distinctive bullpup design (the magazine is behind the trigger) that China has been issuing to its troops for over a decade now. That means China has plenty of surplus Type 81 (improved AK-47) rifles (which the QBZ-95 replaced) to either put into storage, or distribute to allies. Cambodia has bought some Type 95s, for elite units. But most everyone else has the second hand Type 81. AK-47s have been widely used in Burma nearly half a century.

Cambodia has never really recovered from its disastrous experiment in communist government (the Khmer Rouge) in the 1970s. That killed off 15 percent of the population (including nearly all the ethnic Chinese community) and trashed the economy. China supported the Khmer Rouge (as fellow communists), but Khmer Rouge aggression against Vietnam resulted in Vietnam invading in 1979 and deposing the Khmer Rouge. But as the decades went by, former Khmer Rouge officials got back in power, and China made nice.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cambodia's Exports of Rubber Latex See Sharp Rise in First Half

Cambodia has seen 84 percent rise in the exports of rubber latex in the first half of this year, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the statistics from the Commerce Ministry's Camcontrol Department, which is the government's Import-Export Inspection Agent, on Wednesday.

The data recorded that from January to June this year, the country had exported a total 21,511 tons of rubber latex, 84 percent rise from 11,665 tons at the same period last year.

The country earned the total revenues of 102 million U.S. dollars during the first half of this year, 234 percent rise from 30.5 million U.S. dollars it earned within the same period last year, it added.

A ton of good quality rubber latex is about 4,475 U.S. dollars now, up from about 3,450 U.S. dollars at this time last year, Mok Kim Hong, the president of the Chub Rubber Plantation in Kampong Cham province, said Wednesday.

Cambodia's rubber latex has been exported to Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore.

Currently, the country has grown approximately 181,450 hectares of rubber plantations, most of them are young crops, which have not yet yielded.

Rubber plantations are found grown mostly in the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Kratie and Preah Vihear.

Vietnam is the leading country investing in rubber plantations in Cambodia with up to 100,000 hectares of concessional land from Cambodian government for this crop.
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N. Korea wants to buy Cambodian rice, invest in mining

PHNOM PENH, July 27 (Reuters) - North Korea wants to import Cambodian rice to try to ease food shortages and has offered in return to provide machinery and expertise to develop Cambodia's fledgling mining and energy sectors, a Cambodian official said on Wednesday.

A North Korean delegation led by Deputy Trade Minister Ri Myong-san visited Cambodia this week and the country is keen to import rice as soon as possible, said Ouch Borith, Cambodia's secretary of state for foreign affairs.

It would help Cambodia develop its mining sector and invest in hydropower dams.

It would help Cambodia develop its mining sector and invest in hydropower dams.

The amount of rice North Korea wanted to import was not disclosed, he said. Further specific details, such as how North Korea would fund its purchases and investments, were not available.

Cambodia is the world's 15th biggest producer of rice and has set a target of exporting 1 million tonnes of the grain within the next four years.

According to the Economic Institute of Cambodia (EIC), an independent think tank, the country is expected to ship about 100,000 tonnes of milled rice this year, up from 50,000 tonnes in 2010. More goes to Vietnam to be milled and shipped from there.

North Korea is one of the world's poorest countries and it rarely produces enough food to feed its 24 million people, often as a result of bad weather affecting harvests.

International sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme combined with neighbouring South Korea's refusal to provide help have led to a substantial decline in food aid from its traditional donors.

Although Cambodia and North Korea have no trade ties, they have a diplomatic relationship. Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk has a house in North Korea and was once a special guest of the country's late ruler, Kim Il-sung.

Ouch Borith said North Korea had offered to sell agricultural machinery to Cambodia, such as tractors, at cheaper prices than Western countries and wanted to provide expertise in developing mines.

"We have only small and medium-sized enterprises, not big industries, but Cambodia's natural resources are huge, such as minerals, gold, iron and aluminum," he told reporters.

"Our friends the Koreans said they would do studies and use their experience to help Cambodia make an industry from these natural resources."

Agriculture forms the biggest part of Cambodia's $10 billion economy, followed by tourism and garment manufacturing, but it is also trying to develop its energy and mining sectors.
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Cambodia, DPRK sign deal to speed up implementation of economic, trade cooperation

PHNOM PENH, July 27 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia and Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Wednesday signed an agreement to boost the implementation of economic and trade cooperation.

The deal was inked between Ouch Borith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Ri Myong San, visiting DPRK's vice-minister of foreign trade, after the first Cambodia-DPRK Joint Commission meeting on economic, trade, scientific and technical cooperation. After the signing ceremony, Ouch Borith told reporters Cambodia and DPRK have signed seven cooperation agreements since 1993.

They include the agreement on economic, trade, cultural and technical cooperation, trade exchange deal, investment protection deal, Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between Cambodia and DPRK foreign ministries, IT joint committee establishment agreement, cultural exchange cooperation, and water way transportation agreement.

"Even though all these agreements have been in place for nearly 20 years, the implementation of the agreements has not been materialized," he said. "Therefore, the deal we signed today is to boost the implementation of these agreements for the interests of the two countries' peoples."

Ouch Borith said that Cambodia has also seen DPRK as a potential market for Cambodian rice, corn, cassava and bean; in exchange, Cambodia expects to import agricultural machinery from DPRK.

On the investment side, Cambodia wants to see DPRK investors in small hydroelectric dams, agriculture, industry and mineral resources, he added.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

China to pay most of 257km Cambodia-Vietnam rail link

A feasibility study on the construction of a 257km railway linking Cambodia and Vietnam shows it will cost at least US$686 million, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

The railway will be part of an intra-Asian railway that runs from Singapore to China via Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Under a scheme announced in 2008 to develop an intra-Asian railway, China has offered to contribute US$500 million to build the Cambodia-Vietnam stretch of the railway.

The overall cost estimate was announced on Wednesday (July 20) by the Third Railway Survey and Design Institute from the Chinese Railway Ministry which began the study in July, 2009.

The study results will be submitted to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for his approval.

The 275km railway will start in Kampong Speu Province's Oudong District, pass by Kratie Province's Snuol District and end at Vietnam's Loc Ninh District in the southern border province of Binh Phuoc.

The US$686 million cost does not include resettlement compensation to residents who have to leave their homes to make way for the line.

Experts said the railway could bring huge economic benefits to Cambodia, especially in agriculture and mineral exploitation.

At present, Cambodia is revamping the country's existing rail links, including the 254km southern line from the capital to Sihanoukville, and the north line 388 from Phnom Penh to the border with Thailand thanks to an Asian Development Bank loan worth US$73 million.
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DPRK trade delegation visits Cambodia to start economic ties

PHNOM PENH, July 26 (Xinhua) -- A trade delegation of Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) led by Vice Minister of Foreign Trade Ri Myong San on Tuesday started a visit in Cambodia in order to commence trade and investment ties with the country.

During a meeting with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, who is also the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, on Tuesday, Ri Myong San said the visit was to find possibility to start economic relations with Cambodia, especially on the development of agriculture, trade and investment.

Meanwhile, Hor Namhong said that Cambodia welcomed DPRK in starting trade ties with Cambodia for mutual interests of the two peoples.

Ouch Borith, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told reporters after the meeting that the DPRK delegation would hold the first-ever Cambodia and DPRK Joint Committee meeting on July 27 in order to discuss and explore trade and investment opportunities between the two nations.

"It will be the first meeting since the two countries signed the agreement in 1993 to establish the Cambodia-DPRK Joint Committee," he said. "So far, the trade exchange between Cambodia and DPRK is zero."

According to the trade statistics from the Ministry of Commerce, there is no any record of trade transaction between the two countries.

On the investment side, earlier this year, the DPRK's Mansudae New Tech Corporation has invested 17 million U.S. dollars to build an e-museum in Siem Reap province, according to the figure from the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

The DPRK delegation arrived here on Monday and will leave here on Thursday.
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Monday, July 25, 2011

CAMBODIA: Probe promised after garment workers faint

An investigation has been ordered after nearly 100 garment factory workers fainted at the Hung Wah (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing factory in Phnom Penh's Dangkor district.

Local media reports suggest chemicals or exhaustion are to blame, and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has vowed to investigate.

Earlier this year another mass fainting hit the headlines when several hundred workers were rushed to hospital after collapsing at Puma shoe supplier Huey Chuen, in Phnom Penh's Dangkor district.

A just-released report from the Fair Labour Association says there was a "strong possibility" the incident was caused by a combination of exposure to dangerous chemicals, inadequate ventilation, excessive working hours, and health and safety breaches.

As reported by just-style last month, Puma has accepted the criticisms made in the report and developed a comprehensive remediation plan that includes a clear timeline, as well as a process to verify its implementation.
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Illinois soldier's remains buried after 40 years

Associated Press

GLEN CARBON -- Randy Dalton's family, after waiting 40 years to the day, finally laid him to rest Sunday.

An Army honor guard, in white gloves and dress uniforms, carried Dalton's flag-draped coffin the last few yards to his resting place on the gentle slope of a hill at Sunset Hill Cemetery.

A man dressed as a Union soldier from the Civil War played "Taps." More than 400 people stood silently as seven volunteers aimed their rifles skyward and fired three volleys.

An then the honor guard commander, an Army sergeant, presented each of Dalton's three sisters a tightly folded American flag -- a final gesture to honor the 20-year-old Collinsville man whose body disappeared on July 24, 1971.

That's when the helicopter on which Dalton served as a door gunner was shot down during a reconnaissance mission over Cambodia. Although Dalton was due to return home in a few weeks, he volunteered for the mission to take the place of a friend who'd fallen sick.

"We're just very happy today because this day has finally come," said Gayle Vecchetti, one of Dalton's sisters. "We can finally have our brother where we want him at -- here with our parents."

Linda Kruse, another sister, said the past few days have been an intensely emotional time for her, culminating with her little brother's remains being lowered into the ground.

"I was thinking in terms that we're on a journey, but we didn't know we were on a journey," Kruse said. "And we had come to the conclusion of it now and we never knew we would be here."

Sunday's burial service culminated a nearly 20-year search for Dalton's remains in the jungles of Cambodia.

State-of-the-art forensic techniques, DNA analysis and repeated excavations and interviews with villagers familiar with the crash site led to a breakthrough in 2009: the discovery of the remains belonging to Dalton and another soldier killed when their OH-6A helicopter crashed.

Two hours before Sunday's burial, the parking lot at Sunset Funeral Home was already thick with a phalanx of almost 150 motorcycles belonging to the Illinois Patriot Guard and other volunteers, many of them Vietnam veterans.

Despite Sunday's blistering heat, the motorcyclists said they felt privileged to lead the procession to Dalton's grave site, honoring a man who fought and died for their freedom.

"You can't pass this up," said Tony Renfro, 64, of Belleville, who served as a crew chief on an Army helicopter in Vietnam from 1968-69. "You got to come for this guy. It's a brother."

Renfro said he has taken part in other military burials because of what he went through when he returned home from Vietnam.

"We were treated so badly, that's why we do it," he said. "We don't want their families to go through what we did."

Renfro acknowledged the heavy emotions that military burials kindle within him.

"That's why everybody wears sunglasses," Renfro said, tapping the pair hanging off his T-shirt. "You don't want everybody to see you cry."

The Rev. Scott Dutton, one of Dalton's cousins, delivered a eulogy that led him to recount some of their adventures while growing up.

Dutton recalled how his cousin, as a teen-ager, spent a summer trying to learn how to water ski barefoot.

"Every time we went near the water, he had to try it at least once," Dutton said.

Dutton said it was important to remember Dalton's spirit.

"Randy's enlistment was voluntary. His presence on that helicopter was voluntary," Dutton said. "Today we honor that spirit that cost him so much."
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Vietnam – Cambodia railroad to be built

It is part of the Singapore-Kunming railroad project, so it will be a key railroad for Cambodia to transport commodities to regional and global markets, especially in the framework of ASEAN-China Free Trade Area.

The feasibility study for the construction was implemented by the Chinese Railway Ministry's Third Railway Survey and Design Institute since July 2009 with a cost about 3 million USD funded by China.

As planned, the railroad is 257 kilometers in length, starting in Kampong Speu Province’s Oudong district, pass by Kratie province’s Snuol district and end at Vietnam’s Loc Ninh district in the southern border province of Binh Phuoc.

Experts have finalized the total cost for the construction of the Vietnam – Cambodia is about 686 million USD, according to a feasibility study for the construction begining from Kampong Speu province (Cambodia) to the southern border province of Binh Phuoc (Vietnam).

However, this money is not including the settlement compensations for residents affected by the project.

"The project will provide huge economic benefits to Cambodia, especially on the development of agriculture and mineral resources, as well as tourism sector", experts said. The study result will be submitted to Prime Minister Hun Sen to make decision.

The railway will be part of an intra-Asian railway that runs from Singapore to China via Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is expected to be complete within 30 months.
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Abhisit blames Noppadol for on-going border conflicts with Cambodia

Outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Monday blamed former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama for conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia over the 4.6-kilometre plot near the Preah Vihear Temple.

Abhisit was responding to Noppadon's comment that the Abhisit government should have approached the border conflicts based on the measure agreed upon by the Samak Sundaravej Cabinet.

But Abhisit said Noppadon and the Samak Cabinet instead caused the current trouble having issuing a Cabinet resolution to allow Noppadon as the foreign minister to endorse Cambodia's unilateral registration of Preah Vihear as a world heritage site.

Abhisit said the endorsement would allow Cambodia to come in to mange the 4.6 km plot around the temple as well so the current government had to rescind the resolution.

Abhisit said Noppadon's action prompted the Army to deploy troops to the area to try to defend Thai territory.

He said the troops were deployed there since the term of the Samak government.
Abhisit said the Democrat-led government would never allow Thai territory to fall to Cambodia.
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cambodia's ancient wonders suffer modern ills

By Denis D. Gray
The Associated Press
Siem Reap, Cambodia

The blistering heat at Cambodia's Angkor temples eases, and the sun's last soft shimmer will soon brush some of the most wondrous monuments ever created by man. A moment for peaceful reverence? Hardly.

A traffic jam of up to 3,000 tourists surges up a steep hillside, trampling over vulnerable stonework and quaffing beer at a sacred hilltop that provides spectacular sunset views of the massive beehive-like towers rising from the main temple in this ancient city: Angkor Wat.

Below, guides describe its wonders through blaring loudspeakers in a host of tongues as buses circle what is said to be the world's largest religious edifice, one of hundreds erected by Angkor's kings between the 9th and 14th centuries.

"Nobody should be allowed to walk on 1,000-year-old stones," says Jeff Morgan, executive director of the U.S.-based Global Heritage Fund.

He says limits on tourists at the temples are decades overdue.

The influx hastens the deterioration of edifices already buffeted by invasive tropical vegetation and monsoon rains. The relentless tread of feet and the fumes from heavy traffic wear away the soft sandstone. Oily fingers harm the magnificent bas reliefs. Noisy crowds rob visitors of near-mystical moments of quiet contemplation or the chance to imagine they are jungle explorers discovering a lost city.

Too many tourists are not Angkor's only woe.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site and its gateway town of Siem Reap are also beset by crass development, alleged corruption and endlessly delayed plans on how best to preserve the temples.

Once abandoned and overgrown by the jungle, and isolated by wars, these stone buildings have emerged as one of Asia's top tourist draws and a vital money spinner for one of the world's poorest nations. Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon says some 6 million visitors per year are projected by 2020.

The growth curve has been spectacular.

On one day in 1980, shortly after the overthrow of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, this correspondent was the sole tourist in the entire complex. The inauguration of direct international flights to Siem Reap in 1998 was pivotal, and the filming at the temples of Angelina Jolie's 2001 Hollywood hit "Tomb Raider" also helped put Angkor on the map.

Tourist arrivals quadrupled from 60,000 in 1999, to 250,000 in 2001. This year's expected total is 2.5 million.

"Mass tourism is the major challenge. There will be an accelerated use of temples that were not constructed for that purpose," says Anne Lemaistre, who heads UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural and educational body, in Cambodia. "It's not time to talk about it anymore. We need to act."

There has never been a lasting master plan to preserve and regulate the 160-square-mile (400-square-kilometer) site, although an Australian-devised Heritage Management Framework enacted this year should help, she says.

"It's just the beginning. I am not going to say if it is going to be successful or not but we will try," Lemaistre says.

Previous plans over the past two decades have been violated or become outdated.

In 1994, zoning rules to keep approaches to the temples development-free were openly flouted. Today, the once-grand avenue flanked only by towering trees leading to Angkor Wat is a congested line of top-end hotels mingling with cheap, ugly shophouses.

Vann Mollyvann, an architect who headed an independent Cambodian agency to manage Angkor, fought for the zoning and other measures to prevent what he called an "Angkor Disneyland." He eventually was fired for being obstructive, and the agency, Apsara, was put under the direct control of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

A company owned by Sok An's son was later awarded a contract to light up the temples. It was revoked after widespread criticism that the installations were damaging the monuments. Still, a high-profile critic of the project was sentenced to prison in 2009, accused of spreading disinformation.

The way entrance fees are collected also has drawn criticism.

In a hushed deal with no bidding, Sok Kong, a tycoon close to Prime Minister Hun Sen, was granted a concession to collect the fees. Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay and others allege some of that money flows into the dealmakers' private pockets rather than government coffers and Angkor's restoration.

Morgan says Sok Kong's company "is just milking the site."

"Everyone knows it. It's a great deal. You are getting lots of money without putting in any investment," he says.

The government denies any wrongdoing, and the tourism minister said it's "a good mechanism. We can get a lot of money."

Critics say such deals at Angkor merely mirror today's Cambodia, dominated by Hun Sen and the powerful politicians and tycoons around him.

"They control Siem Reap and Angkor like everywhere. They could do whatever they please no matter what the law says," Son Chhay says.

The population of Siem Reap is projected to double to a quarter million by 2020. Unrestricted pumping of underground water has sparked fears that the earth under Angkor's temples might sink and collapse.

The once-charming town now has 320 hotels and guesthouses. More will soon rise after the construction of a new airport that can handle long-haul jets. The current airport now takes smaller planes from regional points.

Many protectors of Angkor say the time has come to strictly limit the number of tourists per day, as is done at Spain's Alhambra palace and Peru's Inca citadel Machu Picchu, or to require slippers and severely curtail where visitors can walk.

Starting this past year, only 100 people have been allowed entry into the uppermost section of Angkor Wat at any one time, and they can stay for no longer than 30 minutes. Some wooden walkways have been installed at the most popular temples.

But much of the temples remain free-for-all zones.

"Tourist management at Angkor sucks and they've had 20 years to work on it," Morgan says.

Lemaistre agrees that Angkor's romantic charm has faded — standing alone on the glorious causeway of Angkor Wat is no longer possible — but that all is not yet lost.

"It's very complicated to maintain Angkor's great quality but it must be maintained," she says. "It cannot become a tourist factory. That would be a nightmare."
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GLEN CARBON, Ill. (AP) — The remains of a Vietnam War veteran from southwestern Illinois will be buried alongside his parents on Sunday, 40 years after the young helicopter gunner was killed in a crash overseas.

Army Spc. Randy Dalton will be buried with full military honors at Sunset Hill Cemetery in Glen Carbon, Ill. He is being buried exactly four decades after the 20-year-old was killed in a helicopter crash in Cambodia.

More than 200 people, some waving American flags, watched as the Illinois Patriot Guard escorted Dalton's casket from St. Louis to Sunset Hill Funeral Home on Friday.

Dan Lentz, of Anna, Ill., told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it was important to give Dalton an honorable welcome home.

"This soldier went to fight for our freedom, served in an unpopular war and was lost in the jungle for 40 years," Lentz said.

Susan Schulte of Grafton also attended the event and gave Dalton's sister, Linda Kruse, a red metal MIA bracelet with her brother's name on it. Schulte has kept the bracelet for nearly 30 years.

"It's like it was meant to be," the 55-year-old Schulte told the (Alton) Telegraph said of her encounter with Kruse. "She was very sweet, very appreciative and thought it was nice I had it all this time."

The U.S. government and Dalton's family spent decades trying to identify his remains. Boxes retrieved in 1989 took years to examine before relatives were asked last winter to submit DNA samples.

Dalton's scout helicopter was shot down on July 24, 1971, during a reconnaissance mission near the South Vietnam border. His body and that of another soldier were left behind due to enemy fire, and their bodies were missing the following day when officials attempted to retrieve them.
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Trade, tourism along Thai-Cambodian border active after World Court ruling

SI SA KET, July 24 – Cross border trade at Chong Sa-ngam border crossing with neighbouring Cambodia in Si Sa Ket on Sunday has reportedly been revived as many Cambodians queued up for the opening of the border crossing in the morning to exchange products with Thai traders.

Cambodians crossed the border to buy and sell large amounts of consumer products. Border trade activities was seen as active again amidst security provided by police officers of Phu Sing Police Station and local army rangers.

Apart from the trade, tourism along the Thai-Cambodian border was also boosted as many tourists have been visiting the area, asking for information about cross-border excursions to attractions such as Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom in Siem Riap, according to Hattachai Pengchaem, head of the trade and tourism operators association in Chong Sa-ngam.

Mr Hattachai said that the return of the active trade and tourism can be attributed to the July 18’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) or World Court rulings on the Thai-Cambodian border, adding that both Thai and Cambodian traders have expressed their confidence in the border situation.

The rulings applied to both Thailand and Cambodia, requiring that both countries withdraw troops from the disputed border area near Preah Vihear Temple.

Meanwhile, the overall Thai political situation in Thailand is becoming clearer, as a new coalition government led by Pheu Thai Party will be formed after the July 3 general election. (MCOT online news)
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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cambodian PM proposes troop pullout deal with Thailand

By Prak Chan Thul

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen shows a document to reporters during a news conference at the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh July 22, 2011. Hun Sen on Friday proposed a coordinated agreement with Thailand to withdraw troops simultaneously in compliance with the United Nations' court ordering both nations to pull out military personnel out of the newly defined demilitarized zone on disputed border.
Credit: Reuters/Samrang Pring

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's prime minister proposed Friday a deal with Thailand to simultaneously withdraw troops from a newly defined demilitarized zone, in compliance with a United Nations court ruling aimed at defusing tensions in a disputed border area.

Hun Sen said Cambodia wanted to respond quickly to Monday's verdict by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which ordered troops from both countries to pull out of the territory around an 11th century temple to prevent further flare-ups.

Thai and Cambodian forces traded gunfire and shelling at two stretches of the 800 km (500 mile) frontier in February and April, killing a total of 18 people and displacing tens of thousands of villagers.

"Troop withdrawal must be done simultaneously. The ruling requires both sides to withdraw troops, not just Cambodia," Hun Sen said at a rare news conference that lasted two-and-a-half hours.

Indonesia, chairing the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), agreed in February to send 15 unarmed observers to preserve a ceasefire, but that mission never materialized and Thailand, and in particular its military, has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue.

Sovereignty of large stretches of the Thai-Cambodia border has been disputed since the French withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s, with the Preah Vihear temple the thorniest subject.

The temple was awarded to Cambodia in a 1962 international court ruling but both nations lay claim to 4.6 sq km (2.5 sq miles) of land around it.

Hun Sen said both sides should cooperate fully with the observers, when deployed, and give details to the ICJ about the number and location of their military personnel. He did not propose a timeframe, but said talks should begin immediately.

Relations between the historic foes have been strained since Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government came to power in December 2008 and reversed a previous administration's decision to back Cambodia's listing of Preah Vihear as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hun Sen said he was looking forward to working with a new Thai government led by Prime Minister elect Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, an ally of the long-serving Cambodian strongman.
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Friday, July 22, 2011

US Praises Laos For Suspending Mekong Dam Project

By The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a meeting of the Lower Mekong Initiative, with representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, July 22, 2011.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Laos as taking a "forward-leaning position" after the tiny, land-locked nation said it had no immediate plans to resume work on a dam across the Mekong River.

The project Laos was considering would be the first dam across the river as it meanders through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. China has dammed its upper reaches, but the 3,000-mile (4,900-kilometer) river otherwise runs free.

Opponents say construction in Laos could open the way for 10 more dams downstream. That would affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

"This is a serious issue for all the countries that share the Mekong River," Clinton said at a meeting of ministers from affected nations Friday.

"Because if any of you build a dam, all of you will feel the consequences in environmental degradation, challenges to food security, and impacts on communities."

Laos announced in May that it would defer building the $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam until an expert review was done. Hydropower is one of Laos' few major resources, and the country had hoped revenue from the dam would spur economic and social development.

It said Friday the suspension would continue, said Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, though he provided no details.

Laos has said the dam would not significantly impact the Mekong mainstream, but activists, scientists and officials in other countries say it would cause irreversible damage.

"I want to urge all parties to pause on any considerations to build new dams until we are able to do a better assessment of the likely consequences," Clinton said.
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Cambodian Prime Minister Criticizes VOA, Radio Free Asia

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday sharply criticized Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, saying their news reports are “very inferior.”

He accused the two broadcasters, both funded by the U.S. government under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, of distorting information, or containing “zero” information.

The prime minister made the comments in response to a question by a VOA Khmer Service journalist at a news conference in Cambodia. The question was about the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and Mr. Hun Sen said it was not among the topics to be covered by the news conference, which followed a meeting of his cabinet and was chiefly dominated by questions about Cambodia's border dispute with Thailand.

Mr. Hun Sen praised Radio France International and offered to hire Cambodian staff at VOA and RFA to work at Cambodian news stations.

VOA responded to the prime minister's comments by saying, “VOA journalists around the world, including those covering developments in Cambodia, adhere to the highest journalistic standards of accuracy and objectivity, standards mandated by U.S. law.”

The Cambodian government has opposed increasing the number of cases heard by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, a joint Cambodia and international court that is trying leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled the country in the late 1970s. More than a million people died under the Khmer Rouge – many of them starved or worked to death, and others executed.

One person has been convicted by the tribunal and four others are being prosecuted. The government says adding more cases could be harmful to national stability.

VOA provides news in more than 40 languages via shortwave and FM radio, television, satellite and the Internet. RFA provides news to Asia.

The Broadcasting Board of Governments also oversees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

War crime tribunal needs to proceed

Viewpoint: The Japan Times (excerpt)

The wheels of justice turn slowly in Cambodia, but they grind nevertheless. Last month, a United Nations-backed tribunal began the second war crimes trials that attempt to hold accountable the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge. This trial is more contentious than its predecessor, in which the defendant accepted the legitimacy of the tribunal and the need for an accounting. This time, the four defendants remain steadfast in their conviction that they did nothing wrong and that even if they did, the court has no authority over them.

This proceeding will render imperfect justice at best. But it will provide some relief for victims and their families. More significantly, it will send the signal that there is no escaping such monstrous acts. The reckoning may come late, but it must be seen to be inevitable.

The Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, was set up by the UN to try former Khmer Rouge leaders charged with genocide and other war crimes. The court, with its mix of Cambodian and international judges, along with international prosecutors, was established because of fears that a Cambodian tribunal would be undermined by political interference or sheer incompetence.

Its first trial last year resulted in the conviction of former prison commandant Kaing Guek Eav, usually referred to as Comrade Duch, for the torture and murder of an estimated 16,000 people; only a handful survived detention in the notorious Tuol Sleng prison he oversaw. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The four defendants in this trial — all in their late 70s or early 80s — do not acknowledge the authority of the court nor the legal basis of the actions against them. All four claim to be innocent of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Many suggest proceedings such as these merely reopen old wounds, and threaten to undo the progress that has been made in national reconciliation. It is a powerful argument, but one that is rarely made by the victims. Indeed, the most vocal advocates of moving on tend to be those individuals who have a stake in forgetting.

There is another equally powerful reason for letting the tribunal go forward: the need to educate the Cambodian people about their past. For years, political tensions dampened attempts to explain and understand Cambodia’s past. A generation has come of age that has little knowledge of its history. The failure to understand history is a dangerous foundation upon which to build a state. Ignorance is the opposite of reconciliation.

The growing popular interest in the tribunal suggests that the “forgetting school” is wrong. It is estimated that at least 100,000 Cambodians have visited the tribunal since 2005. The 500 seats in the court are fully occupied every day. The hearings are being broadcast live on radio and television.

The Cambodian people understand that they have a stake in their past. That is the foundation of justice.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vietnam veteran's remains coming home to southwestern Illinois after 40 years

GLEN CARBON, Ill. — Told that Randy Dalton was killed during the Vietnam War, his family in southwestern Illinois wondered for decades if their loved one, killed with an Army pal when their helicopter was shot down in Cambodia, would ever make his way home.

On Sunday, 40 years to the day since Dalton died, that cloud — and the serviceman's remains — finally will be laid to rest.

Dalton will be buried next to his parents with full military honors at a Glen Carbon's Sunset Hill Cemetery, ending his long journey home after years of painstaking efforts to identify the Army specialist's remains.

"It puts closure to this," Dalton's stepmother, Collinsville City Council member Liz Dalton, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "No longer will we wonder, 'Is he still alive?' Even though the (medic) said he was dead, you always wonder."

Dalton was from Collinsville, where his late dad served as mayor in the early 1990s. He was just 20 when the scout helicopter he was occupying with two other men was shot down and made a crash landing in Cambodia during a reconnaissance mission near the South Vietnam border.

A medic who arrived on a rescue helicopter found one of the first helicopter's crewmen to be dead and tried to revive Dalton, who stopped breathing during the resuscitation efforts. Rescuers had to leave the bodies of the two dead men behind because of enemy fire.

When U.S. troops returned the next day to retrieve the bodies, the bodies were gone.

In 1989, officials in Hanoi turned over three boxes of remains to the U.S. government, though it took years to go through the remains and secure identifications before Dalton's relatives were asked last winter to submit DNA samples.

In March, Dalton's family learned that his remains had been identified.

"Somebody worked very hard at this," another of Dalton's sisters, Karen Dalton Kloster of St. Louis, told the Post-Dispatch. "And I'm just flat-out amazed. Somebody was very diligent. We're very, very happy."

Patty Hopper, a founding member of the Arizona-based POW/MIA nonprofit group called Task Force Omega Inc., said there are about 1,700 Americans from the Vietnam War listed as prisoners of war or missing and unaccounted for.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports that the Defense Department lists more than 83,000 military personnel still accounted for as of last week, the vast majority from World War II.

"In Randy's case, we knew he was gone because a medic was taking care of him when Randy died," Hopper said. "You know he didn't spend years in captivity being exposed to God knows what."

Liz Dalton, the stepmother, said the Department of Defense kept the family informed and sent packets every three months about the search efforts.

"We felt they were doing as much as they could," added Dalton, who was married to Randy Dalton's father for 30 years before he died in 2005 at age 80. "I would have loved for my husband to know they found Randy."

The family was given the option of burial at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington or Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, but it decided it would be more fitting for Randy Dalton to be laid to rest beside his parents.
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Cambodia Awaiting Monitors for Border Withdrawal

A July 18, 2011 sketch-map by the International Court of Justice shows an area around Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple and surrounding territories claimed by Thailand, which the Court identifies as a 'Provisional Demilitarized Zone.' The July 18 ruling is the first ruling pending the Court's final decision on its interpretation of its 1962 ruling.

Cambodian officials say they are prepared to comply with an international court order to demilitarize an area surrounding Preah Vihear temple, but not until third-party monitors arrive.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday ordered troops from both sides to clear a provisional demilitarized zone around the temple, which has been at the heart of a deadly military standoff since July 2008. It also ordered that both sides allow observers to have access to that zone. Indonesia, as head of Asean, has offered to provide observers.

The court decision was in response to a Cambodian request for the court to clarify a decision it made in 1962 over not only the temple, which it awarded to Cambodia, but surrounding lands that both sides still lay claim to.

Chhum Socheath, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, told VOA Khmer on Tuesday Cambodia was willing to withdraw from the area but would implement the court order “step by step.”

“When there is a presence of Indonesian observers to monitor a permanent ceasefire in the provisional demilitarized zone, we must withdraw from the border area,” he said.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who chaired a national security council meeting Tuesday, was quoted saying he has assigned officials to map out talks with Cambodia to implement the international court order.

He said he believe a General Border Committee between the two sides was the best channel for implementing the order, the daily Nation reported. The court order had no bearing on border demarcation, he said, according to the Nation.

Chhum Socheath said Cambodia is not opposed to talks with Thailand, under the framework of Asean.
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Armed Forces Recruit Thousands To Fill Ranks

An army official stands in front of a group of new recruits in Kandal province on Sunday, July 17, 2011. The army is hoping to add thousands of soldiers to its ranks.
The Cambodian military has added 3,000 new recruits to bolster its ranks, and to replace retiring soldiers.
Recruitment efforts are underway to select soldiers for four separate divisions, along with a special unit based in Kratie province, said Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

Chhum Socheat said the recruitment drive was looking for volunteers, not conscripts. “We need quality, not quantity,” he said.

The recruitment drive comes amid a tense border standoff with Thailand that is now more than three years old. The standoff over land near Preah Vihear temple prompted an outpouring of public support for the Cambodian military, but the International Court of Justice ordered a provisional demilitarization zone on Monday.

The border conflict has meant little opposition to a growing military, despite persistent problems in public health, education and other sectors.

“We should have soldiers to protect the border, because neighboring countries always have an ambition to invade Cambodia,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, told VOA Khmer.

Lao Monghay, an independent analyst, said the new recruits should not be taken all at once.

“This is a new strategy to protect national security, and we don’t have the number of military soldiers,” he said. “It is difficult to support the soldiers.”

On Sunday, military officials in Kandal province oversaw a recruitment drive there for a special unit. Po Samdy, a two-star general and deputy commander of the unit, thanked the youths and their families “for helping protect our country.”

Sem Sokleng, 22, who stood among other freshly crew-cut youths, said he had joined to protect Cambodia from “invasion.”

“I’m brave, and I want to share that with all Cambodian people,” he said.

“If neighboring countries invade our country, we would be destroyed,” said Bok Sinat, 24. “That why we have to volunteer.”

Bres Leng, 53, said he had a son who was volunteering for the unit.

“Former soldiers have allowed their sons to be soldiers,” he said.

Neang Khen, a two-star general and commander of the infantry for Region 41, told VOA Khmer he needed to add 1,000 more soldiers to his ranks to protect the border.

“A while ago, we modernized, but we don’t have enough soldiers because of aging soldiers,” he said. “So we have to replace the retired soldiers only.”
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Cambodia’s Metamorphosis during the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

By Mark Johanson

Children's laughter wafts over the fence from a prismatic schoolyard in the distance as I stand in the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. It eases the tension of this haunted place to know that, through it all, life carries on. Choeung Ek looks no different than any other field. Before the Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia upside down, Choeung Ek was an orchard of longan fruit. Even today, butterflies buzz about the rolling fields, belying the horror that lies beneath.

They say that every time the rains pound Phnom Penh, bones rise from the ground at Choeung Ek.

In order to save bullets, The Khmer Rouge beat their victims to death. After placing the bodies in mass graves, soldiers poisoned the ground to ensure that no one survived. So, while the Killing Fields may look like any other field, the ground itself is toxic.

Babies were beaten to death at the mammoth bashing tree. Women were shaved bald and disposed of. Other burial sites reveal piles of decapitated skeletons. The crimes against humanity that occurred at Choeung Ek are unfathomable.

A white stupa stands tall in the center of the field, shelving the bones from excavated sites at Choeung Ek. The sheer amount of skulls glowering out of the structure gives weight to its exclamatory form.

The majority of these sad souls arrived from Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, a torturous institution that no high-ranking Khmer Rouge official claims any knowledge of. Before the Khmer Rouge stormed into Phnom Penh "liberating" the people and evacuating the city, Tuol Sleng was S.21, an unassuming three-story schoolhouse in the heart of the town. Within weeks, it was made-over into the most notorious prison in Cambodia. Pull-up bars became torture devices as school rooms were converted to cells. Locked inside S.21 were the rich and the famous, the élite and the educated, the opposition and the ethnic - anyone who was anything in the old Phnom Penh was a threat.

A movement that arose in the countryside, the Khmer Rouge distrusted anyone from the city. Feeding on anti-American sentiment over bombings that bled across the border from Vietnam, they ousted the pro-American regime of Lol Nol. Making their final ascent into Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge claimed that the entire country was liberated and marched Cambodia back into the Stone Age. Abolishing religion, education, and government, they imprisoned every citizen. Families were torn apart and sent to work in camps, manning the fields of rice.

Cambodia's cities became ghost towns and its people wandering spirits.

Pol Pot and his men effectively orchestrated the most horrific genocide in living history. Starved, beaten, and killed, over the next four years, the Cambodian population was reduced by one-third at the hands of its own countrymen.

As I pace though the ground floor of S.21 (Tuol Sleng) the pleading eyes of its former residents search for justice. Photographed and documented at intake, the haunting black-and-whites are organized in overwhelming checkerboard displays on schoolroom bulletin boards. The women appear stripped of their sexuality with cropped hair and vacant eyes. The men, with gaunt, angular faces, gaze out in wild-eyed frustration. Of the thousands who slept in this schoolhouse jail, just seven survived. The men and women on these walls are the faces of Cambodia's ghosts.

In the late 1970s, the people of Cambodia were split and torn against each other. The Khmer Rouge preyed on the rural poor who, uneducated and with little alternatives, turned to the rising movement. Their stories find a voice in S.21 as well. In a series of then-and-now photos of former Khmer soldiers, those who survived speak of returning to their villages to piece together the life they lost to the movement.

S.21's top floor explores the continued search for justice for the Cambodian people. Remarkably, Pol Pot was never held accountable for his crimes against humanity and died in 1998 a free man. The Khmer Rouge even held Cambodia's UN seat for twelve years after the Vietnamese invasion ended their rule.

The end of the Khmer Rouge period in 1979 led to a civil war that finally ceased in 1998 when the Khmer Rouge's political and military structures were dismantled. Yet, even today, the party remains in remote pockets of the rural north.

As I return to S.21's courtyard, the blazing afternoon sun shoots past the former prison's elegant palms. I step back out into Phnom Penh's chaotic streets to the cries of disfigured and destitute beggars. A one-legged man is selling his survivor story. A blind woman pawns hers. My tuk tuk driver ushers me away, recommending a side trip to Thunder Ranch, a shooting range near the Killing Fields where eager tourists fire AK47s or rocket launchers and chuck grenades at local livestock. He opens up the pamphlet with an earnest smile, oblivious to how I might react to this proposition after leaving his country's most brutal prison.

Most Cambodians would rather move on than dig up their ugly past. Some don't acknowledge anything happened at all. In 1997, the government requested that the United Nations assist in establishing a trial to prosecute the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge. In 2001, the Cambodian National Assembly passed a law to create a court for trying serious crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime 1975-1979. This court is called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea (or ECCC). In 2006, the ECCC organized a trip for all Cambodians to visit S.21, the Killing Fields and other sites to come to terms with their past and give invaluable testimony for the trial.

Last July, in the tribunal's first case, Khmer Rouge official Kaing Guek Eave was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for running the notorious S.21 prison. As you read this, case 002 is under way. In total, there will be four hearings. Justice for the Cambodian people is, at long last, a possibility.

A walk through Phnom Penh is a tornado trip through dark alleys and pools of light, stoic monasteries and lavish gardens, riverside flair and backstreet fear. Some parts of the city, with seedy flophouses, rampant drugs and prostitution, feel like a heroin nightmare. Others offer a glimpse of the country to be. The city itself cuts abruptly to rice fields at the edge of town, a stark reminder of Cambodia's dueling personas

The Khmer people were once at home in one of the world's greatest civilizations. Now, they live in the poorest country in Southeast Asia. It's amazing what four years in the hand of an evil regime can do to a country.

Phnom Penh is bleeding bones, but it is also swarming with butterflies.

These fluttering rainbows mark the beginning of a magnificent metamorphosis. Their flashy coats offer a glint of beauty - a welcome change, masking the wormy scent of a foul past.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Again, justice for Cambodia

The wheels of justice turn slowly in Cambodia, but they grind nevertheless. Last month, a United Nations-backed tribunal began the second war crimes trials that attempt to hold accountable the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge. This trial is proving more contentious than its predecessor — in which the defendant accepted both the legitimacy of the tribunal and the need for an accounting. This time, however, the four defendants remain steadfast in their conviction that they did nothing wrong and that even if they did, the court has no authority over them.

This proceeding will render imperfect justice at best. But it will provide some relief for victims and their families. More significantly, it will send the signal — as do all such prosecutions — that there is no escaping such monstrous acts. The reckoning may come late, but it must be seen to be inevitable.

The Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, was set up by the U.N. to try former Khmer Rouge leaders charged with genocide and other war crimes. The court, which has a mix of Cambodian and international judges, along with international prosecutors, was established because of fears that a Cambodian tribunal would be undermined by political interference or sheer incompetence.

Its first trial concluded last year, resulting in the conviction of former prison commandant Kaing Guek Eav, usually referred to as Comrade Duch, for the torture and murder of an estimated 16,000 people; only a handful survived detention in the notorious Tuol Sleng prison he oversaw. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. But Duch converted to Christianity late in life and accepted the legitimacy of the tribunal and that he committed the deeds in question, but insisted that he was only following orders.

The four defendants in this trial — former head of state Khieu Samphan, 79; former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 85; his wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, 79; and the chief ideologue of the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea, 85, — do not acknowledge the authority of the court nor the legal basis of the actions against them. All four defendants claim to be innocent of the charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Three of the four — all save Nuon Chea — argue that a 10-year statute of limitations of the previous Cambodian legal statutes bar their prosecution. Ieng Sary's lawyers claim that prosecution is barred because of double jeopardy: He was tried in absentia by the Vietnamese in 1979 after they drove the Khmer Rouge from power; he was then pardoned by the king of Cambodia when he broke with the Khmer Rouge in 1996. The court is hearing all those claims.

While procedural issues are important to the defendants, the most critical questions surrounding the proceedings are moral and philosophical. First, can there be real justice when trials are held more than three decades after the crimes were committed? Of course, many would say — and we agree — that is precisely the knowledge that there is no escaping justice that gives the law its force and its deterrent effect. Justice delayed is most assuredly not justice denied.

But many counter that proceedings such as these merely reopen old wounds, and threaten to undo the progress that has been made in national reconciliation. It is a powerful argument, but one that is rarely made by the victims. Indeed, the most vocal advocates of moving on tend to be those individuals who have a stake in forgetting.

Thus, the biggest obstacle to additional trials appears to be Prime Minister Hun Sen — a former mid-ranking Khmer Rouge cadre. He is unlikely to be a part of the trial, while other prominent members of the Cambodian elite including his inner circle have questionable pasts. Mr. Hun Sen claims that additional trials risk dividing the country and could be destabilizing.

That is possible but unlikely. The guilty parties are old — the four defendants in the current trial range from 77 to 85 — and unlikely to rally significant forces on their behalf — at least, not if the prime minister does not chose to indulge them.

While justice is the most compelling reason to proceed, there is another equally powerful reason for letting the tribunal go forward: the need to educate the Cambodian people about their past. For years, political tensions dampened attempts to explain and understand Cambodia's past. A generation has come of age in the country that has little knowledge of its history. This may have been expedient, but the failure to understand history or its causes is a dangerous foundation upon which to build a state. Ignorance is the very opposite of reconciliation.

The growing popular interest in the tribunal suggests that the "forgetting school" is wrong. It is estimated that at least 100,000 Cambodians have visited the tribunal since 2005. The 500 seats in the court are fully occupied every day. The hearings are being broadcast live on radio and television.

The Cambodian people understand that they have a stake in their past. That is the foundation of justice.
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New DMZ Created at Thai-Cambodia Border

Cambodian soldiers rest on the ruins of the ancient Preah Vihear temple where a military camp was set up on February 9. Now that the ICJ has ruled the area to be a DMZ, soldiers will no longer be allowed near it. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

The International Court of Justice has ordered Thailand and Cambodia to withdraw their troops from Preah Vihear Temple and its surrounding area, declaring it a demilitarized zone.

The order is to prevent more armed conflict in the border area that has seen attacks from both countries since 2008, when, according to a letter by the Cambodian ambassador to the United Nations, 50 Thai soldiers invaded Cambodian territory near the temple.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has also said that Thailand cannot block Cambodia from accessing the temple or the transport of fresh supplies to nonmilitary personnel.

The ICJ also announced that the two countries should continue working with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to settle the dispute.

Last April, 50,000 people had been displaced by the Cambodian-Thai border conflict and there had been many fatal brawls in the region.

Thailand and Cambodia have appealed to the U.N. before and the temple, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, has been damaged in the skirmishes.

In 1962, the ICJ declared the land surrounding and including the temple as all part of Cambodia. Thailand rejects the ruling, arguing that the only convenient road access to the area is from the Thai side of the border.

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CAMBODIA: The challenges of building democratic institutions

Jean Monnet, regarded by most as the founding father of the 27 member European Union, once said, "Nothing is possible without men; nothing is lasting without institutions." That statement has influenced my political thinking over time. I have reflected on Monnet's inferences about 'men' and possibilities, and 'institutions' and longevity. A related concept is represented by a familiar quotation from President John F. Kennedy: "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."

As I needed for myself a sense of empowerment and of positivity, I inverted Monnet's words to read: "With men and women, nothing is impossible." And I added, "God willing."

Last month in Phnom Penh, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told the Phnom Penh Post of Cambodia's need for "democratic institutions" that benefit everyone in society. A few days ago, the Post printed Cambodian lawmaker Ms. Mu Sochua's article, "A hard road to democracy."

Thus, as I considered what to write for this month's column, my thoughts have focused on Monnet's 'men' and women, too, as sensitive readers reminded me of inclusiveness and on 'institutions.'

Intelligent men and women make things happen. Throughout human history, they have used their capacities to discover, build, change, create and destroy. Some among them are remembered; others are forgotten. Their ideas, vision, and the institutions they created, remain.

Of Institutions An institution comprises groups of men and women working together toward common goals conforming to rules they established for reaching those goals. People create institutions, shape and reform them, live by them and are influenced by them.

Prime Minister Fillon's urging that Cambodians establish 'democratic institutions' requires that Cambodians comprehend what 'democratic' is, and what 'institutions' are. Since the time of Angkor, Khmers have assigned their faith and allegiance to individual god-kings and leaders, not to ideas and concepts.

Ms. Sochua's July 11 column examined the challenges of growing democracy on autocratic soil where the people's interests and needs are superseded by their leaders' personal interest in holding on to power.

Yet, Ms. Sochua expressed pride in the 'light of hope' for democratizing Cambodia that 'shines each time our villagers stand up to defy arrests,' and noted the countryside's 'tightly woven' opposition networks. 'Women' she observed 'take an active part in that grassroots movement.'

That observation is borne out by news photographs I compiled in a YouTube presentation. More than one reader who reviewed the compilation of photos noted the presence of women in protests and activities, an indication Cambodia's fight for rights and equality has begun. Another reader asked, while those female protesters were pushed around and beaten by Hun Sen's security forces where were the men?

The men were there, too, however. One bloodied and unconscious, having tried to present a petition to visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon some yards away; and male villagers with wooden sticks taking on the police who had been ordered to take away their land.

Cambodians are not so placid and their well-known patience has a limit.

Someone said, humans conquer space but never succeed in walking across the street to get to know their neighbours. Humans' inner shortcomings are plenty. Thus, I write often on the importance of acting on the basis of those universal principles and values that have guided the actions of leaders who work for the common good. Those who are motivated by such principles and values can agree on their shared goals and establish rules for attaining them.

As a Cambodian born in a nation of 14 million of whom 95 percent are described as Buddhists, I have found Lord Gautama Buddha's teachings to be an excellent guide for Cambodian leaders who govern the country, and for Cambodian democrats who struggle for rights and freedom in Cambodia. And so, I write continuously on Buddha's teaching.

Actually, Buddha's teaching can help in the building of 'democratic institutions' and the practice of politics, if only men and women choose to learn and follow his advice. Buddha's search for answers to why there's so much pain and suffering endured by the multitude, led to his long journey that ended with his Enlightenment.

Of DemocracyThe Greek word 'Demokratia' ('demos' means people; 'kratia' means government) means 'popular government.' It is a system of government by the people, who exercise their governance indirectly through elected representatives, a system founded on the principles of equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal treatment.

Democracy (demokratia) is a system of popular support of government; popular representation (the people elect representatives to act as their voice and protect their interests); popular consultation (the elected officials know people's needs and demands and are responsive to them); political competition (to allow the people to choose from among policies and candidates); political equality (the people can participate and compete for public office); alternation of power (political power rotates and changes hands); majority rule (with minorities' rights protected); and free press (a responsible free press gives facts, raises public awareness, and keep leaders responsive to the people).

In the United States' system of government, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, made clear that a government exists to serve the people who have the right to resist government directives that no longer serve the people's will, and to replace it with a new one.

Thus, Fillon's 'democratic institutions' are institutions that benefit all, inclusively.

Today's Cambodia is far from being democratic. Democratization as a process is not democracy.

Of Leaders and Bureaucracy
Actually, two 'governments' are in existence simultaneously in a democracy.

One is a government of representatives elected by voters, the citizenry, to serve and protect the people's will and interests. In this government, elected leaders stay in power for the terms specified in the Constitution. It is a 'temporary' government: A group of people that governs today, and will rotate its power to another group of people tomorrow. Democratic election winners do not see their victory as permanent, and democratic election losers see the setback as temporary: Today is your turn to govern; tomorrow, mine.

The other government is one that stays permanently in office regardless of which political party is in power. We refer to this government as a bureaucracy, or a civil service. Government cabinet ministries form this bureaucracy. It is a large scale organization of appointed officials, civil servants, and support staff whose major role is to carry out the policies developed by elected officials, the policy decision-makers, and to apply and follow government policy guidelines, laws, and regulations. In a democracy, the military, the police, and the courts are strictly impartial, neutral, and independent, with functions well defined by the Constitution, and are not instruments to serve elected leaders' personal wishes.

In today's Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party rule through fear and intimidation, bribes and deceits. The government in place is in no way illustrative of the concepts represented by the Greek word 'Demokratia.'

Yet, Cambodian democrats should remember that though bureaucrats are technically subordinate to elected or appointed officials, as career governmental personnel and support staff they can, nevertheless, influence their boss's policy decisions in several important ways. They can inject the bureaucracy's perspective and values when they pass on information to the decision-makers; they can provide a recommendation that favors their department's views; and they can shape events by tempering the efficiency with which certain policies are carried out.

Thus, regime opponents should connect with, and persuade Cambodia's bureaucrats to come up with creative measures that can influence Hun Sen's policies to benefit the struggle for freedom – and even to derail what damages the people's interests.

Change is Possible
Buddha says, 'Nothing is permanent,' and that 'Everything changes.' He also teaches, 'He is able who thinks he is able.'

I wrote about Malcolm Gladwell's book, 'The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.' Gladwell posits that 'a bedrock belief that change is possible' is what underlies the 'successful epidemics' that bring change. He said we might think the world around us may seem like 'an immovable, implacable place,' when it actually isn't. He advised, 'With the right kind of impetus … the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.'

"Believe you can and you're halfway there," said President Theodore Roosevelt. "Yes, we can," and Barack Obama became the first non-white American to become president of the most powerful country in the world.

Hun Sen's grip on power may seem irreversible. But it's not. Remember Tunisia. On Dec. 17, 2010, a 26-year-old street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, from the hardscrabble town of Sidi Bouzid, some 200 miles south of Tunis, was slapped and beaten by authorities following a disagreement about his permission to sell his fruits. Bouazizi was denied an opportunity to lodge his complaint. In despair and as a protest, he doused himself in paint thinner and lit himself on fire. His self-immolation sparked local riots that spread and turned into a tsunami of revolutionary fervor that sent an autocratic ruler of 23 years, President Ben Ali, fleeing the country. That tsunami keeps dictators near and far guessing until today.

Events, Actions, CircumstancesSome say Cambodia is not Tunisia. Others point to conventional wisdom that sees Cambodians as placid, passive, accepting, and accommodating. There's no Cambodian Bouazizi, they say. Professor Joel Brinkley's "Cambodia's Curse, The Modern History of a Troubled Land" may paint Cambodians as pathetically unable to bring change to their country, a thesis I don't accept. I nevertheless like the book and many things Brinkley said in it. Yet, I maintain that change is not only desirable in Cambodia, it is possible in today's Cambodia under Hun Sen. Some express pessimism because the challenges are steep, but they are not impossible to be overcome.

Ms. Sochua presented some significant statistics about Cambodia: Four million Cambodians live below the poverty line; over a million have lost their homes, their land, and the source of their livelihood to a government that needed their land for economic development; almost a million hectares of land has been given in economic concessions to men and companies with ties to the CPP through 99-year leases.

Visit Khmer websites to see how Cambodian opposition organizations are increasing in number inside and outside the country, offering public forums and training, and with daily public demonstrations here and there – a testimony to the efforts being made to bring change. A video, "Stories of Change," on YouTube shows change is taking place.

I have created and posted on YouTube several PowerPoint presentation comprised of photos of events that occurred in Cambodia, accompanied by Khmer music and songs. I intended the presentations to inform and to educate, and I'm glad some Cambodian and non-Cambodian viewers have written to tell me they found the slide shows informative and educational. Some have asked that I provide written context to describe the photos.

In the presentations viewers can see some photos of what Asian Times Online's Julie Masis, a Cambodia-based journalist, called the "bustling urban metropolis" of Phnom Penh with tall buildings and fast food restaurants marking the rapid rate of economic growth (9 percent annually) over the past decade. Viewers can also see the dark side of this rapid expansion: Forced eviction at Boeng Kak Lake, a community of some 4,000 families, with a giant metal tube pumping sandy water to fill the lake, flooding and burying people's homes; a back hoe pulling down homes, uniformed police with sticks forcing people to lie on the ground while their thatched homes were set on fire.

Last week a ceremony took place at Boeng Kak Lake to inaugurate construction of a 133-hectare housing and commercial project by a firm linked to a senator of Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party. Several hundred families who remained at the Lake continued to fight furiously against their eviction.

The divide between the very rich and the very poor is wide and growing.

In the PowerPoints, viewers can see how increasing arbitrary and oppressive measures by the regime have resulted in some localized rioting, such as in Kompong Speu where 200 villagers with wooden sticks, knives, and slingshots, battled and routed 300 police sent to evict the families from their land. For a people known for their peaceful and accommodating nature to battle police and post a banner under Hun Sen's photo, 'Would die for ricefields,' is revealing of the low ebb of Khmer patience.

As Ms. Mu Sochua said in her Phnom Penh Post column, "The only way to stop those people fighting for justice is for the ruling party to realize that sharing power is a must."

But why should an autocrat accept to share power when he's in complete control? A Cambodian opposition figure said, "Nothing will stop those who want a government that reflects the true will of the people from starting an Arab Spring in Cambodia." The politician viewed Hun Sen's warning that he will close the door and beat the dog as evidence of his past background as a Khmer Rouge commander.

"Work out your own salvation"While I believe events, actions, and circumstances can converge to precipitate a tipping point of change, it seems that unless opponents to Hun Sen's autocratic rule can overlook one another's shortcomings, and unite toward a common goal, the struggle against oppression and for the rights and freedom of the Cambodian people is at risk.
As a United States forefather, Benjamin Franklin, said more than 200 years ago, "We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Hun Sen has affirmed that he and the ruling CPP will be happy to hang opponents, one by one.

There is an element of desperation in some Cambodians' hope that the international community will insist, at this late date, on the implementation of the 1991 Paris Peace Accord. In fact it was the warring Khmer factions that disregarded the Accord soon after it was signed. The Accord is a dead letter, and opponents to Hun Sen's autocracy are on their own.

"No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may," Buddha told mankind 2,500 years ago. He advised not to rely on others but to "Work out your own salvation."

Thus, Cambodians of different political tendencies must unite, move on steadfastly with their activities, increase pressure on the dictatorship, and believe that nothing is so firmly rooted that it cannot be changed. If the rights spots are pushed at the right time, change will occur.

As Roman philosopher Seneca said more than two thousand years ago, "A kingdom founded on injustice never lasts."

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. He currently lives in the United States.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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