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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Asian gangs' violence felt in Stanislaus County

Youths' vulnerability, culture gap fuel growth

By Rosalio Ahumada

Law enforcement in Stanislaus County focuses a lot of attention on Latino street gangs because of the number of members and the extent of their criminal activities: drug trafficking, robberies and homicides.

But Southeast Asian gangs, while less prevalent in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, are still part of the area's criminal landscape and are just as dangerous as their Latino rivals.

"The gun means power; the gun means respect; the gun means status," Modesto police Detective Ra Pouv said about the mentality of Southeast Asian gang members. "If someone disrespects you, it's on."

The deadly nature of the Southeast Asian gangs was evident this week in Modesto after a married couple and their adult daughter were killed during an apparent robbery at their Yosemite Boulevard Asian goods market.

Vanh Thammavongsa, 55, was pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday. His 49-year-old wife, Phou- vieng Thammavongsa, and their daughter were taken by ambulance to a hospital. His wife died at the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

Daughter Nanci Thammavongsa, 28, died Thursday after hospital officials turned off life-support machines.

The Thammavongsas were refugees from Laos who came to this country to work for a better life for their family. They owned and operated V&V Oriental Market at 1320 Yosemite Blvd., east of Santa Cruz Avenue.

Thou Yang of the Hmong Association of Stanislaus County said the deaths of the Thammavongsas are shocking, leaving him to wonder what could have been done to prevent it.

"There's just a lot of sadness," Yang said. "I think it's just a big shock to this Southeast Asian community."

Three young men -- known by police to be members of a Modesto Southeast Asian gang -- have been charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of the Thammavongsas.

Pouv, an expert in Asian-American street gangs who is assisting homicide detectives in the market shooting, said that to understand Southeast Asian gangs in Modesto, you have to start at the beginning.

Their origins lay in the few square miles that encompass west Modesto.

Refugees were fleeing war-torn Southeast Asia and looking for a new start in the United States. Pouv was born in Cambodia and moved with his family to Modesto, where he grew up.

He said a lot of families settled in west Modesto, finding affordable homes in areas around Modesto High School, Roselawn Avenue and Paradise Road.

The newcomers encountered racial tensions with black, white and Latino residents, who already were living in the neighborhood. Pouv said Southeast Asian youths came together to form a group that would provide them protection in the tough neighborhood.

The detective said the group didn't participate in criminal activity, create a street gang name or claim the neighborhood as its own. He said that group, simply dissipated as a new crop of Southeast Asian kids came together with sinister intentions.

They became the Modesto Hit Squad, modeled after the Crips, a black gang that had spread out of South Central Los Angeles and gained members in Northern California cities such as Modesto.

Like the Crips, the Modesto Hit Squad wore blue gang attire, committed robberies and sold drugs, eventually becoming just as dangerous as the Southern California gang.

Gangs proliferated

Pouv said the Modesto Hit Squad is still active and has inspired several other Southeast Asian gangs in Modesto, including the Crazy Mobb Family, the Asian Boyz and the Tiny Rascal Gang.

Another is the CWA Crips, also known as Crips With Attitude. Oloth "Dicky" Phommahaxay, 18, Sophon Theoun Ting, 16, and Chris Douangkham, 15, are members of the CWA Crips, according to a criminal complaint filed in court.

The Modesto teenagers are accused of murder in the deaths of the Thammavongsas, with gang enhancements that could bring longer sentences. They pleaded not guilty in court Friday.

"Southeast Asian gangs are pretty violent groups," said Pouv, a member of the Modesto police Gang Investigations Unit. "The concept of disrespect is a big thing in these gangs. It's almost more personal than Latino gangs."

He said disrespecting someone is like dishonoring yourself, and it's never tolerated.

Also unlike Latino gangs, the Southeast Asian gangs are not territorial and they don't fight over neighborhood turf. Pouv said the gangs focus on selling drugs, committing robberies and stealing cars.

"Like the Latino gangs, they have a tendency to prey on victims of their own race," Pouv said.

Their victims, having dealt with oppressive ruling regimes in their home countries, often still have a distrust of police and government officials. Pouv said their limited English-speaking skills also keep them from reporting crimes.

Tough to ask for help

It's even tougher for parents of Southeast Asian youths to ask for help in pulling their kids out of gangs.

Jean Kea is a youth outreach coordinator at west Modesto's The Bridge Resource Center, which offers services for Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian and other Asian families. He said the cultural gap between parents and their children leads to trouble.

"(The parents) don't know the language, and they can't help their kids with their homework," Kea said. "(The children) then don't want to go to school."

More time on the streets can lead to vulnerable kids lured into gangs. Kea said the center has after-school programs to keep kids off the street, but more are needed.

Pouv said Southeast Asian youths gravitate toward gangs because they're trying to rebel and become more assimilated to the American youth culture they see around them.

'Afraid to say anything'

For traditional Southeast Asian families, he said, it's a source of shame to let people outside your family know your problems.

"Some recognize the signs, but are too afraid to say anything," Pouv said. "There's no such thing as counseling with Southeast Asian families."

Pouv said it can be tough to get these residents to help with an investigation, but it has happened.

In April 2008, a surge of tips from Modesto's Cambodian community helped investigators find and arrest four people suspected in the shooting death of a man hit by stray gang gunfire.

The community rallied to show support for the victim's family and gave crucial information to Pouv, who was then a member of the police Street Crimes Unit.

He said it's even more important to keep kids from joining gangs, but he's seen gang members as young as 11 years old.

"It's the lifestyle that pulls them in, the money," Pouv said. "The gangs have so much influence on these kids."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.
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Suthep urges caution amid 'troop boost'


The government is appealing to yellow shirt protesters to show restraint amid reports that Cambodia is boosting troops at the border.

BORN TO BE WILD: People’s Alliance for Democracy co-leader Chamlong Srimuang patrols on a scooter as the PAD rally enters its fifth day at Makkhawan Rangsan bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue to protest the government’s approach to the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. PHOTO: JETJARAS NA RANONG

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday called on People's Alliance for Democracy protesters to tone down their attacks on Cambodia and be mindful of what they say during their rally near Government House.

He was speaking amid unconfirmed news agency reports that the Cambodian Ministry of Defence on Friday sent dozens of tanks and fighting vehicles, missiles and ammunition to the Preah Vihear temple area at the disputed border.

On its website, the Cambodian newspaper Duem Ampil quoted Information Minister Khieu Kanharith as saying that the Cambodian army had ordered its forces to be on a full alert to prevent any Thai attempt to enter Cambodian territory, while the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a recent Thai military exercise at the border was provocative and could set off a war.

It also criticised Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's demand that Cambodia remove its flag from the Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple, saying such a call was "unacceptable and Cambodia firmly rejects such an insulting demand".

The Thai army held a military drill in Nakhon Ratchasima on Thursday seen as an attempt to show its muscle.

Border tensions intensified over the past week after Cambodia put up tablets in the disputed area opposite Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket criticising a Thai "invasion" of the area in 2008.

Phnom Penh later demolished the tablets, but any easing in border tensions looks to have been shortlived.

The Xinhua news agency reported yesterday that Cambodia has boosted troops at the border.

"We have warned Thai troops that if they dare to enter our territory, Cambodia will act in self-defence to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity," said a senior Cambodian officer, who asked not to be named.

In Bangkok the PAD has set up a protest site near Government House to demand the government take stronger action against Cambodia. Mr Suthep yesterday urged the protesters to exercise caution. "I want to tell [Cambodian] Prime Minister Hun Sen that what the protesters say has nothing to do with the government's stance," he said.

Meanwhile, the PAD has knocked back efforts by a Democrat MP jailed in Phnom Penh this month to broker talks with the government to end the Cambodia dispute.

Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth yesterday urged the PAD to enter talks with the government.

However, the protest group leaders said they had yet to hear from him formally and in any event doubted the talks would succeed.

PAD spokesman Panthep Phuapongpan insisted Mr Panich had not approached yellow shirt leaders.

Mr Panich, a former vice-minister for foreign affairs, was among seven Thais jailed in Cambodia this month on border trespass charges.

"As far as the key men in the PAD are concerned, he has not contacted us. We see no benefit to our group from any talks anyway," the spokesman said.

"We will agree to talk only if the government accepts our demands."

The PAD, which is camped out on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, is demanding the government abolish the memorandum of understanding signed between Bangkok and Phnom Penh in 2000 on land border demarcation, withdraw Thailand from the World Heritage Committee and clear Cambodian villagers and troops from a disputed area near Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, said the protesters had the right to put up their demands but the government would do what is best for the country. "You know, they can make their demands. They have the right to do so. But as the government, we have to do what is the best for the country," he said.

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Lawyers for detained Thais need more time


Lawyers from the Thailand Patriots Network will ask a Cambodian court to postpone the reading of a verdict from this Tuesday in the case against two Thais charged with trespassing and espionage.

They said they had not collected sufficient information and proof to be presented to the court in order to defend Veera Somkwamkid and Ratri Pipattanapaiboon.

TPN legal adviser Wanwipa Charoonroj said the group's lawyers were unable to survey the border area where Cambodian soldiers arrested the two and five other Thais on December 29. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban had not granted permission for a survey of the area despite Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordering state agencies to help facilitate the lawyers' travel to the disputed border area.

Suthep acted as caretaker prime minister while Abhisit was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

TPN legal adviser ML Tossapol Kaewtima said the group was deeply disappointed with Suthep. Since they could not find evidence to help with the case, the network would request the Cambodian court give them more time to find evidence and postpone its verdict on the two, who are charged with trespassing and espionage. They will also request bail for the two.

Tossapol said the TPN also planned to step up pressure on the government to meet their demands over disputes with Phnom Penh. The group would follow up on complaints submitted at various agencies and step up their campaign against the government.

In Davos, the prime minister told The Associated Press that protesters demanding the government revoke its pact with Cambodia over a border dispute had a right to make their demands, but he would do what was best for the country.

"We feel that the way we approach the border problems, and the problems — as far as the relationship with Cambodia is concerned — is best for the country, which is that we try to resolve whatever issues come up in a peaceful manner."

He stressed the importance of dealing with the issue peacefully. "So that we preserve good relations — we are both part of Asean — and at the same time we make sure that we protect Thai interests," he said. "So all we can do is to explain to them that we feel that this is the best approach and I am confident that the majority of Thai people support" the government.

Human Rights Commissioner Parinya Sirisarakarn said he would attend the court hearing of Veera and Ratri and would ask Veera about conditions of his detention to ensure his basic rights.

Meanwhile, Suthep threatened legal action yesterday against the People's Alliance for Democracy if they continue their protest by blocking roads and causing inconvenience to the public.

Suthep said he would wait for two to three days and decide - if there were not many protesters but the PAD blocked several roads causing traffic congestion, the government would definitely file a suit against them. He said there were only a few hundreds protesters during the day and about 2,000 protesters at night but the PAD blocked not one but several routes.

He urged the protesters to get on one side of the road to make way for motorists. He said blocking Rajdamnoen Klang Road, which the royal family uses, was totally inappropriate.

Responding to demands for the government to remove a Cambodian flag on a Thai temple near the Thai-Cambodian border, Suthep said the government would solve the problem through diplomatic means. "We have to take it easy. When you have neighbours, you should not threaten them too much. I believe Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has probably been attacked by the media and his people over the PAD's threat,'' he said.

"I would like to send this message to PM Hun Sen that whatever the protesters said had nothing to do with the government. Both sides have to be patient and find solutions to the problems,'' he said.

Democrat Party MP for Bangkok Panich Vikitsreth said he negotiated with the PAD not to stop their protest but to explain the government's stand so that both sides understand each other better.

He said key leaders of the PAD's sub groups had a tendency to understand the government's point of view and there was only one group that had a different view of the government.

Responding to a threat by Chaiwat Sinsuwong, a leader of the Thailand Patriots Network, to team up with the red shirts to oust the government, Panich said no government wanted to lose territory but pushing Cambodians off Thai soil was something that had to be done without confrontation.

"I admit that I crossed the military operation line to the disputed area. We will know the answer [whether it is Thai or Cambodian soil] when we complete border demarcation,'' he said.

PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said the fact PM Abhisit knew about the Cambodian flag being hoisted at the Thai temple for two days but failed to remove it showed his government was incompetent.

Cambodia has refused to remove the flag, claiming the area belongs to Cambodia according to the 1:200,000 square kilometre map.

He said the PM and his deputy must take responsibility if it accepts the Cambodian verdict on the case of the seven Thais since they were arrested on Thai soil.

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World’s longest red carpet to unroll at CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival (March 1-9)

The world’s longest red carpet, measuring 26.5 kilometers, will unroll at the upcoming CamboFest Cambodia Film Festival (March 1-9,, linking the French colonial venue town of Kampot with the seaside coastal town of Kep.

Jan 29, 2011 – The world’s longest red carpet, measuring 26.5 kilometers, will unroll at the upcoming CamboFest Cambodia Film Festival (March 1-9,,linking the French colonial venue town of Kampot with the seaside coastal town of Kep while shattering existing records for a red carpet event.

The lengthy carpet, donated by the Zhejiang Da Guanyuan carpet company of Zhejiang Province, China, is currently on its way to the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville, to then be transported by road in time for the festival.

“This long carpet is a symbol of regional friendship’ said Zhejiang Carpet Company owner Jiang Jiansheng at a recent Phnom Penh press conference. ‘It’s a grand scale and powerful enterprise which has possessed many high technical manpower who are specialized in the designs of all kind of hand-woven, weaving art and wall-to-wall carpets.’

CamboFest founder and co-organizer Jason Rosette welcomes the carpet, but has expressed concerns about the festival’s ability to handle the rug while housing and feeding the 35 person crew who will be involved in its installation.

‘The carpet is monumental, and we welcome any support for our grass roots, indie festival here in the developing world’ said Rosette. ‘And of course, at more than twenty six kilometers, it beats the world record hands-down.’

He added, ‘After the event, the rug can be cut into sections and donated to schools and homes and any other folks who can use it here in Cambodia’.

‘But what we really need is a decent large venue projector that our youth group can operate for this year’s event, running March first through the ninth’, Rosette conceded.

‘Funding has been extremely limited this year, with the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Arts Network Asia, UNESCO, the Jan Vrijman Fund, the Asia Foundation, and others turning us down for funding.

Rosette estimates that funders this year may still be nervous due to attacks on the CamboFest Film Festival at the 3rd edition in 2009 by Phnom Penh based foreign movie pirates. (*see ...)

Such interference, though not the fault of the festival itself, may nonetheless leave donor and funding agencies reluctant to sustain any further perceived risk in the Cambodian environment, despite the value of the CamboFest mission.

Rosette added that this year the Deutsche Welle DW-AKADEMIE has, however, invited CamboFest co-organizer Phun Sokunthearith to a film festival training workshop in Berlin, highlighting a proactive, courageous leadership role that development agencies might assume in atypical, and sometimes hazardous, developing world media environments.

Despite the lack of funding, hardware, venues, and skilled festival staff in Cambodia (with most of the country’s artists being killed off during the Khmer Rouge regime) other exciting developments –besides the red carpet – are unrolling at this year’s CamboFest Cambodian film event.

A Cambodian youth group, Youth Association for Human Resource Development (YAHRD) will be trained to operate many of the festival’s functions to ensure the event’s future sustainability, while CamboFest staff will again revive the once-majestic ‘Royal’ cinema house, which was destroyed during the civil war and subsequent Khmer Rouge regime, as a venue for this year’s festival event.

‘We hope that many guests and movie buffs will come to take a walk on the magnificent, world-record breaking red carpet supplied by our supporters at the Zhejiang Carpet Company’, said Rosette.

‘But, we sure could use additional financial support to feed our staff, to buy fuel for the generator, to pay for housing for any visiting filmmakers, and to upgrade our projector to a better large venue model’, he added.

And then, truly, the red carpet can be unrolled!

The CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival runs from March 1-9in the colonial coastal town of Kampot, Cambodia.

Visit the CamboFest website ( ) to download a sponsorship proposal or to send any inquiries.

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CAMBOFEST, Cambodia Film Festival was established in 2007; find out more at
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John Burgess lecture reflects on ancient and present Cambodia

By Yvette Villasenor

Students and faculty gathered Friday evening to listen to an art lecture presented by John Burgess, the journalist and author behind "Stories in Stone."

Burgess began his career as a journalist in Thailand in 1971 as a sub-editor for The Bangkok World, an English-based paper. Later, he found himself interested in the scripted stones that lay in the heart of Angkor, Cambodia, where he got the idea for his book "Stories in Stone."

As students and faculty filled the lecture room, Burgess began his lecture on his adventures and findings of the Sdok Kok Thom inscription and the enigma of Khmer history he found in Angkor. He also shared his experiences about Cambodia's architecture, scripture and overall culture.

"Angkor has remained largely off the map for the world's consciousness," Burgess said.

He believes the Sdok Kok Thom findings and the fall of Khmer hold significant historical importance and sharing his experience with different audiences will grow knowledge of this particular culture and how it relates to other cultures with an equally impressive historical importance as Ancient Rome or Egypt.

Many students stayed after the lecture to speak with Burgess and other students and faculty.

"The lecture was intriguing," said Minh Tran, an art studio major. She believes having lectures about personal experiences will open the eyes of more students and draw them to learn more about other cultures.

Pat Chirapravati, professor and director of Asian studies at Sacramento State hopes to grow the Asian studies department by providing students and faculty with informational, insightful lectures once a month to open eyes to different cultures of the world.

"Our campus is so diverse," Chirapravati said. "I want to stimulate students to learn about the world and look beyond."

As Chirapravati works to further grow the Asian studies department, she encourages students who are interested in her department to come to her office.

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