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Monday, January 17, 2011

Desperately seeking a sense of balance

The media has been a factor in Thai-Cambodian relations since they became strained in 2008 whenthe dispute over the Preah Vihear temple resurfaced. The coverage in Thailand and Cambodia of sensitive incidents, including the recent arrest of seven Thais oncharges of trespassing on Cambodianterritory, could improve or damage relations between the neighbouring countries. ANUCHA CHAROENPOspoke to Neth Pheaktra, managing editor of the Khmer-language edition of the PhnomPenh Post newspaper, on its reporting policy.

What's your newspaper's policy on reporting the arrest of the seven Thais and other issues that could affect Thai-Cambodian relations?

This is a crucial story for us because the Cambodian people are watching developments closely.

We have run a lot of the stories relating to border disputes between the two countries since the [Preah Vihear] conflict flared up in 2008. The matter has also been reported by other local newspapers.

Do you agree with critics saying the press is partly to blame for the escalation of Thai-Cambodian tensions?

The stories that we publish are based on facts and are well-balanced. We have never exaggerated the news. Cambodian people pay a lot of attention to the Thai-Cambodian relations issue because we are neighbours.

Nationalist sentiment always runs high when it comes to Thai-Cambodian relations. How do you view this trend?

Both Thai and Cambodian people feel the same way - they love their country. Whenever our country has problems, the people will unite to protect our beloved nation.

Neither the Cambodian people nor the government want to lose a square inch of our land, but we don't want even a square inch of Thai soil.

The best way to improve relations between our two nations is to respect one another.

There is an argument that the seven Thais were arrested on Thai soil.

According to a video clip posted on YouTube, this group of people said themselves they were in Cambodia. They walked 500 to 600 metres into Cambodia. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has been quoted as saying the seven Thais entered Cambodia by accident.

However, the detainees' lawyers have the right to produce evidence and fight for them in court, which, I think, will complete the hearing by the end of this month. Once the Phnom Penh Municipal Court hands down its verdict, the seven Thais can appeal to a higher court if they disagree [with the verdict].

If the defendants have any evidence to back their claims that the area where they were arrested is in Thailand, they can submit it to the court. We should let the law take its course.

Are there any political motivations surrounding this case?

This case is related to politics. So, both governments need to hold urgent talks to solve the problem. Coordination is needed at all levels to reduce tensions between the two countries. The seven Thais should confess to the court [that they entered Cambodia illegally] and prove that they had no intention of trespassing.

How can Thai-Cambodian relations return to normal?

We have bilateral mechanisms. [Cambodian] Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mr Abhisit have emphasised that when problems emerge between the two countries, the two sides will hold talks. Negotiations, not military action, will help solve the problems.The two countries should also press ahead with collaboration to solve the border demarcation disputes.

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Cambodia Survivor: ‘I Want to Show the Better Side of Humanity’ (With Video)

Kilong Ung, a Portland software engineer who survived the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, is returning to his native land next week to start work on building a new school.

“I want to show the better side of humanity,” Ung says. “My dream is not just one or two schools. I want to build hundreds or thousands.”

In a 2009 WW profile, Ung described losing his parents, younger sister and seven other relatives in the genocide estimated to have killed 2 million people. Ung and his older sister, Sivheng, fled to Thailand and eventually settled in Portland, where Ung graduated from Cleveland High School and Reed College.

Still haunted by nightmares of the past, in 2009 Ung published a memoir called Golden Leaf and founded the Golden Leaf Education Foundation to raise money for schools in Cambodia. Ung says the foundation has so far raised more than $65,000, with one couple giving $16,000.

The Cambodian-American Community of Oregon for years has provided food and medical aid to the people of Ang, an impoverished village in western Cambodia. CACO members told Ung the village school is in terrible condition, with holes in the roof that leak in the rain.

Ung is traveling to Cambodia this week to meet the district governor, visit the village and sign a contract with local builders. Ung says he’ll be accompanied by Chanly Bob, head of CACO; Norb Murray, president of the Golden Leaf Education Fund; and Hem Heng, the Cambodian ambassador to the United States.

Ung and Murray are active in the Rotary Club of Portland, and Ung says a local rotary in Cambodia will oversee building the school. Ung says he hopes it will be the first of many new schools in Cambodia built with donations from Oregon. (To donate, contact

“The Khmer Rouge eradicated my faith in humanity, and by doing this, I am rebuilding my own faith in humanity as well as other people’s faith in humanity,” Ung says. “Two million people died. I want to make sure they didn’t die in vain.”
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Corruption Charges Leveled at Detained Police, Officials

Hun Hean, former police chief of Banteay Meanchey province

Banteay Meanchey provincial court on Monday charged four senior police officials with corruption in relation to drug trafficking, following a spate of arrests over the last week.

The charges were handed down to Hun Hean, former police chief of the province; his deputy, Chheang Son ; Moek Dara, former secretary-general for the National Authority for Combatting Drugs; and Chea Leng, former head of the Ministry of Interior's counter-drug department.

All four, who were removed from their posts before they were arrested in questioning by authorities last week, had been the targets of an Anti-Corruption Unit investigation.

“Now we've charged them with taking bribes in relation to a drug trafficking case,” Ton Sihak Teches, prosecutor for the Bantey Meanchey provincial court, told VOA Khmer.

Though all four were charged at the provincial court, they were arrested and held separately: Moek Dara in Prey Sar prison, outside Phnom Penh, Chea Leng in Banteay Meanchey provincial prison, and Hun Hean and Cheang Son in Siam Reap provincial prison.

They were charged under Article 38 of the 1992 penal code and face up to seven years in prison if convicted, Ton Sihak Teches said.

Sum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said the group was following the case to ensure “equality of all detainees and the legal process for them.”

Monday's indictments follow the November arrest of Pursat provincial prosecutor Chan Sereivuth, who was also charged under corruption in an ACU investigation.
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Police Break Up Lake Protesters at Chinese Embassy

Phnom Penh municipal police armed with electric batons and shields dispersed a small group of protesters in front of the Chinese Embassy Monday morning.

A group of around 30 demonstrators had gathered in front of the embassy, on Mao Tse Tung Blvd., to protest the involvement of a Chinese company with a local developer that is forcing thousands of families from their homes near Boeung Kak lake.

No one was injured in the clash. Protesters had prepared a letter for the embassy, but embassy officials would not accept it.

In the letter, representatives from seven villages, in the district of Don Penh, representing 3,200 families, said they want $1,500 per square meter in buyouts or be given 15 hectares of land from the 133-hectare development.

The letter asks the Chinese ambassador for “intervention” in the case, due to the joint partnership between Chinese company Erdos Hongjun Investment and the Cambodian developer, Shukaku Inc.

Three separate spokesmen from the Chinese Embassy declined to comment on Monday, referring questions to each other instead.

Thouch Naroth, head of the municipal police, said Monday police had received a complaint from the embassy that required the dispersal of the protesters. “The embassy did not accept their letter,” he said.

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US War Crimes Ambassador Wants Cases Pursued

US War Crimes Ambassador Steven Rapp met with Khmer Rouge tribunal officials last week and urged both the Cambodian and international sides of the court to cooperate in two controversial cases.

Case Nos. 003 and 004, which would require further indictments and charge Khmer Rouge cadre beyond those already in detention, are sitting at the office of investigating judges, but top court and government officials have said they should not proceed lest they create national instability.

However, in an interview with VOA Khmer, Rapp said he urged official to move the investigations forward.

“We want to make sure that the court is able to conclude its investigation on all matters,” he said in an interview Saturday. “Our view is that [the government] will cooperate fully with the court.”

Public remarks by Prime Minister Hun Sen critical of further indictments have caused critics to claim there is governmental interference with the tribunal process, a claim the government denies.

Rapp, who staid Thursday through Sunday, said his visit had convinced him the investigations will go forward. “The indication I have is that the cooperation is there and ongoing and as it's required,” he said.

Rapp's visit comes after a stopover by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said proper funding of the tribunal must be a priority. In addition to tribunal staff and the government, he met with diplomats from donor countries.

Rapp will also visit Thailand and Japan before a meeting with donors in New York over funding later this month.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said Rapp's visit was “an encouragement” for tribunal staff and donors.

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