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Friday, June 29, 2012

Cambodia Medical Exercise 2012 concludes

  “The Marines and sailors performed excellently,” Reid said. “We asked a lot of the sailors and Marines, requiring them to adapt to different environmental and teaching conditions.”

The personnel at the Preaketh Mealea military hospital were extremely receptive to the training, according to Reid. After the lectures, hospital staff requested further discussions and training in the future.

While in Cambodia, the battalion also conducted a community relations project at the Aspeca Orphanage in Kampot.

The sailors and Marines worked hard to leave the buildings looking as nice as possible and worked side-by-side with the Cambodians.

“The project showed good relations between our countries,” said Sgt. Gary L. Garza, a civil affairs team chief with III MEF civil affairs. “The local populace, staff of the orphanage and personnel from the battalion helped to make it better looking and safer for the children.”

In addition to the outreach project and subject-matter exchanges, U.S. and Cambodian service members exchanged knowledge regarding types of fractures, splints, intravenous procedures, splinting, casualty carries and other basic medical techniques.

They exchanged this specialized information through classroom instruction, demonstrations and practical application exercises.

“We are happy the sailors come here to train,” said Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Lt. Cmdr. Ley Sarith, a physician’s assistant at Ream Naval Base. “The sailors helped train our newer personnel with new equipment and techniques.”

As there is not a large military presence in Phnom Penh, the hope is information will be disseminated from those who attended the exercise to personnel at other facilities throughout Cambodia, according to Reid. 

“We will continue our mission to increase (Cambodia’s medical capabilities),” said Reid. “We will be taking the lessons we learned here home with us, and we hope they will do the same and share the knowledge with those around them.”

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia  — After spending 20 days in the hot, humid climate of Cambodia, sailors and Marines with 3rd Medical Battalion wrapped up Cambodia Medical Exercise 2012 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 21.

KAM POT, Cambodia-Marines, sailors and a Cambodian volunteer paint the Aspeca Orphanage in Kam Pot June 10 during Cambodia Medical Exercise 2012. The orphanage was repainted during a community relations event to help orphaned children in the local community. The Marines and sailors are with 3rd Medical Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. , <B>Lance Cpl. Nicholas S. Ranum, 6/10/2012 6:54 AM</B>
KAM POT, Cambodia-Marines, sailors and a Cambodian volunteer paint the Aspeca Orphanage in Kam Pot June 10 during Cambodia Medical Exercise 2012. The orphanage was repainted during a community relations event to help orphaned children in the local community. The Marines and sailors are with 3rd Medical Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. , Lance Cpl. Nicholas S. Ranum, 6/10/2012 6:54 AM
 The battalion, a part of Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, participated in the exercise to enhance military-to-military relationships between U.S., Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Cambodian government medical personnel.

“The exercise went well,” said Lt. j.g. Kevin D. Reid, operations officer for the exercise. “We met the objective set for us by III MEF and U.S. Pacific Command, which directed the battalion to build host nation medical capabilities.”

 During the exercise, 58 lectures were given to medical staff by both Cambodian and U.S. personnel and participants conducted subject-matter exchanges and bilateral medical training, according to Senior Chief Petty Officer Arne A. Marin, the senior enlisted leader for the exercise.

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Cambodian villagers protest controversial Laos dam


PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian villagers demonstrated on Friday against a controversial Lao hydropower dam that activists say is being built in defiance of an agreement to assess its potentially damaging impact on millions of people first.

About 200 villagers whose livelihoods depend on the Mekong River urged a halt to the Thai-led construction of the $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam, which has angered Cambodia's government and triggered a rare rebuke by Laos's biggest ally, Vietnam.

"This dam won't just affect the people in our country but will also affect many parts of Laos," said Buddhist monk So Pra, organizer of the protest in Kompong Cham province, 124 km (77 miles) from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

The Xayaburi dam is one of dozens planned as part of Laos's aggressive push to boost its tiny $7.5 billion economy and become the "battery of Southeast Asia" by exporting the vast majority of its power.
Foreign governments are concerned Laos is prioritizing its growth ambitions over ecological and environmental protection.

Under pressure from neighbors that felt its environmental impact study was inadequate, Laos agreed in December to suspend the project pending an assessment by foreign experts. Four countries share the lower stretches of the 4,900 km (3,044 mile) Mekong -- Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Environmental group International Rivers released a report this week saying it had witnessed Ch Karnchang Pcl, Thailand's second-biggest construction firm, resettling villagers, beefing up labor, building a large retaining wall and undertaking dredging to deepen and widen the riverbed.

"So far, Ch Karnchang claims that they are only going forward with 'preliminary construction' on the project," said Kirk Herbertson, Mekong Campaigner for International Rivers.

"Ripping up the riverbed and resettling entire villages cannot be considered a preliminary activity."

Te Navuth, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong River Commission, said Laos had violated a 1995 agreement requiring prior consultation before starting any development on the Mekong.

"Laos always said that it's just preparatory work," he said, adding Cambodia and Vietnam would jointly demand a halt.

Thailand could also be affected but, although small protests have taken place there, the government has been reluctant to oppose the project.

Ch Karnchang has a 57 percent share in the Xayaburi, which Thai banks are helping to finance. State-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) will buy electricity generated by the plant. Read more!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Court frees 13 Cambodian land eviction protesters

By SOPHENG CHEANG Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—A Cambodian appeals court Wednesday ordered the release of 13 women who had been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for protesting their eviction from their homes without adequate compensation, in a case that was widely seen as an example of injustice.

The women cheered in the courtroom, their supporters applauded and observers from foreign embassies, including the United States, smiled in the audience after the judge's ruling. Local and foreign human rights groups hailed the women's freedom, but said the court also should have overturned their guilty verdicts.
"Finally, justice has been done for us," defendant Heng Mom said tearfully. "From now on I can see my children and live with them."
The women had lived in Phnom Penh's Boueng Kak lake area, which the government awarded to a Chinese company for commercial development, including a hotel, office buildings and luxury housing. Residents complained that they were not given the new land titles they had been promised by the government.

. And here is the rest of it.Their joy Wednesday was marred by a clash outside the court between police and the women's supporters, a reminder of the evictees' prolonged struggle against a government with little tolerance for dissent.
About 200 human rights activists and relatives of the women tried to gather near the court to demonstrate their support, but clashed with about 300 police and military police who were deployed to block them. Human rights groups said at least a dozen people were hurt.

Judge Seng Sivutha upheld the convictions of the women for aggravated rebellion and illegal occupation of land, for which each had been sentenced to 2 1/2 years. They had been arrested when they symbolically tried to rebuild their homes on land where their old houses had been demolished by developers in 2010.
The judge reduced their sentences to time served of one month and three days and freed them because he said they had children to take care of and had little knowledge of the law. He also said that testimony indicated that they did not resist arrest. They were to be freed later Wednesday after being processed out of prison.
Concern has risen in Cambodia over land grabbing, which sometimes involves corruption and the use of deadly force in carrying out evictions.
The human rights group Amnesty International said the appeals court "should have overturned the women's convictions, not simply suspended the remainder of their sentences and allowed the convictions to stand." 
The group earlier said the original trial was unfair because lawyers were not given sufficient time to prepare and not given access to evidence or witnesses.
A statement issued jointly by 13 Cambodian rights organizations also welcomed the women's release while regretting that their convictions were upheld.
Read more!

Manulife targets Cambodia's growing middle class

(Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp, Canada's largest life insurer, has set up shop in Cambodia, hoping to tap into an emerging middle class in the southeast Asian country.

The move is part of the Toronto-based company's strategy of targeting profit growth in Asia as part of its plan to reach net profit to C$4 billion ($3.90 billion) by 2015.

Beset by write-downs and market-related charges, Manulife reported earnings of C$129 million in 2011.

"The company sees the potential of Cambodia, with a population of about 15 million and an emerging middle class," David Wong, chairman of Manulife Cambodia, said in a statement trumpeting the official opening of its Phnom Penh head office.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cambodia says China requested arrest of Frenchman

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—Cambodia's government said Wednesday that China had asked it to arrest a Frenchman for possible involvement in a murder linked to one of China's biggest political scandals in years. But authorities said they would not extradite him unless China provides more evidence.  

Cambodian authorities on Tuesday acknowledged they had arrested Patrick Devillers, but declined to say why. On Wednesday, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said China had requested Devillers' arrest because of possible involvement in the murder in China last November of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Kanharith gave no details of Devillers' alleged involvement, however, and said Cambodia was studying whether to extradite him.

Heywood had close ties to Bo Xilai, a Chinese political high-flier who was ousted as Communist Party chief of the Chinese city of Chongqing. But those ties had soured and Heywood's death led to the end of Bo's career.  

Bo's fall came after his former police chief and longtime aide fled to a U.S. consulate and divulged suspicions that Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, was involved in Heywood's death. Bo was removed as Chongqing party secretary on March 15 and was suspended as a Politburo member amid questions over whether he tried to quash an investigation of his wife and a household employee over the Briton's death.
Though authorities in China initially said Heywood died from either excess drinking or a heart attack, they have since named Gu as a suspect. She faces criminal charges.

News reports have said that Devillers was closely linked to Bo, Gu and Heywood.
Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for Cambodia's Interior Ministry, also said China had asked Cambodia to arrest Devillers for possible involvement in Heywood's death.
But he said China must give more evidence before Cambodia will extradite him.
"We need more evidence, clear information from China, before we are going to make a decision," Khieu Sopheak said. "If there is no clear evidence from China, Devillers will be set free."
He said Cambodia could hold Devillers for up to 60 days before deciding whether to extradite him.
Eric Bosc, deputy to the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that Devillers was arrested June 13 and that the reason remains unclear.
Kanharith said Devillers was living openly in Cambodia and was not in hiding. Devillers, an architect, had helped Bo rebuild the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian when Bo was the city's mayor in the 1990s, The New York Times reported last month.
The Frenchman and Gu were partners in setting up a company in Britain in 2000 to select European architects for Chinese projects and both gave the same address of an apartment in the English city of Bournemouth, the newspaper said.
It cited an unidentified friend of Devillers as saying the architect left China in 2005 and has been living in Cambodia more or less continuously for about six years.
China has considerable influence in Cambodia, having provided millions of dollars in aid over the past decade.
In 2009, Cambodia deported 20 members of the Uighur ethnic minority group who said they were fleeing ethnic violence in China's far west and wanted asylum.
Read more!

Cambodian court frees 13 women who were jailed for protesting eviction from their homes

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Cambodian appeals court Wednesday ordered the release of 13 women who had been sentenced to 2½ years in prison for protesting their eviction from their homes without adequate compensation, in a case that was widely seen as an example of injustice.

The women cheered in the courtroom, their supporters applauded and observers from foreign embassies, including the United States, smiled in the audience after the judge’s ruling. Local and foreign human rights groups hailed the women’s freedom, but said the court also should have overturned their guilty verdicts.

“Finally, justice has been done for us,” defendant Heng Mom said tearfully. “From now on I can see my children and live with them.”

The women had lived in Phnom Penh’s Boueng Kak lake area, which the government awarded to a Chinese company for commercial development, including a hotel, office buildings and luxury housing. Residents complained that they were not given the new land titles they had been promised by the government.

Their joy Wednesday was marred by a clash outside the court between police and the women’s supporters, a reminder of the evictees’ prolonged struggle against a government with little tolerance for dissent.

About 200 human rights activists and relatives of the women tried to gather near the court to demonstrate their support, but clashed with about 300 police and military police who were deployed to block them. Human rights groups said at least a dozen people were hurt.

Judge Seng Sivutha upheld the convictions of the women for aggravated rebellion and illegal occupation of land, for which each had been sentenced to 2½ years. They had been arrested when they symbolically tried to rebuild their homes on land where their old houses had been demolished by developers in 2010.

The judge reduced their sentences to time served of one month and three days and freed them because he said they had children to take care of and had little knowledge of the law. He also said that testimony indicated that they did not resist arrest. They were to be freed later Wednesday after being processed out of prison.

Concern has risen in Cambodia over land grabbing, which sometimes involves corruption and the use of deadly force in carrying out evictions.

The human rights group Amnesty International said the appeals court “should have overturned the women’s convictions, not simply suspended the remainder of their sentences and allowed the convictions to stand.” The group earlier said the original trial was unfair because lawyers were not given sufficient time to prepare and not given access to evidence or witnesses.

A statement issued jointly by 13 Cambodian rights organizations also welcomed the women’s release while regretting that their convictions were upheld.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hun Sen Denies Breeching Ban on Land Concessions

Khek Chan Raksmey of Boueng Kak holds a protest sign as she participates in a rally to ask King Norodom Sihamoni to help release of villagers including her mother in front of Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Monday, June 11, 2012. The villagers were arrested when they tried to rebuild their homes on the land where their old houses were demolished by the developers, and were sentenced to two years and half in prison by Phnom Penh Municipality Court late last month. Phnom Penh's Boueng Kak is a lake area the government awarded to a Chinese company for commercial development, including a hotel, office buildings and luxury housing. A banner reads: "Please help villagers of Boeung Kak."

Prime Minister Hun Sen has denied media reports he violated his own ban on economic land concessions, saying he only signed contracts that had been agreed upon prior to his decision.

Local media have reported in recent days Hun Sen’s signature on multiple land concessions, which are at the heart of a growing problem of rural landlessness and unrest.

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, Hun Sen has signed concessions on more than 65,000 hectares of land since declaring a ban on May 7. The concessions include land in protected wildlife parks.

Hun Sen appeared to be reacting to reports in English-language newspapers that detailed the land concessions, including in wildlife parks in the provinces of Mondolkiri, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear.

Hun Sen signed seven separate land concessions on June 7, totaling 44,460 hectares, according to documents, which was added to around 21,000 hectares he signed off on in May and June.

Hun Sen said in a public speech he had already agreed to those before declaring his ban.

However, Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said land concessions in national parks are illegal no matter what and should not have land concessions granted within their boundaries. “He cannot grant [land] in reserve areas,” Ou Virak said. Read more!

Cambodia: 27 Die in 29,510 malaria cases in first 5 months

PHNOM PENH, June 26 (Xinhua) -- Some 29,510 malaria cases were reported in Cambodia in the first five months of this year, claiming 27 lives, according to a report of the country's National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control on Tuesday.

The report showed that the number of malaria cases declined by 11 percent compared with the same period last year, while casualties remained the same.

Char Meng Chuor, director of the center, said that the decline was thanks to regular awareness campaigns by health officials and the distribution of mosquito nets to the disease-prone groups of people.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. In Cambodia, the disease is often found in the rainy season and mostly happens in border provinces, as well as forest and mountainous provinces.
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Program tackles 'hidden hunger' in Cambodia

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun

University of B.C. researchers are spearheading a unique program aimed at ending chronic malnutrition among women and children in rural Cambodia.

Rural Cambodians tend to get around 80 per cent of their calories from rice, which is widely grown as a cash crop, explained Judy McLean of UBC's faculty of land and food systems, who is leading the study with colleague Tim Green.

This over-reliance on rice has meant people don't get enough animal protein and nutrient-rich vegetables, which are key sources of vitamins and minerals, McLean said. These deficiencies, particularly common in women and children, can result in anemia and make children less resistant to potentially fatal respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. Such deficiencies also reduce children's ability to learn, she said.

"You're more likely to get sick and [the illness] will be more intense ... and of longer duration."

Nutrient deficiencies are sometimes referred to as "hidden hunger" because the people are not starving, but lacking in high-quality food, McLean said. "It's not that acute sort of 'TV' hunger we talk about. It's ... this ongoing deficient diet."

To combat the problem, the UBC researchers are teaming up with the non-profit Helen Keller International to measure the impact of creating fish ponds and home gardens, where families can grow nutrient-rich vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

The study involves 900 households, many headed by women, randomly divided into three groups: one that will grow high-nutrient fruits and vegetables, one that will have fish ponds and a control group.

Fish are an excellent source of protein, iron, essential fatty acids and nutrients. McLean said she expects the ponds to be especially beneficial because local residents consume the smaller fish whole.

"By doing so, you get more of the vitamins and minerals that are in ... the internal organs, in the eyes, in the livers, in their skeletons."

The UBC team will take blood samples from participants before and after the study, which is expected to last 30 months and cost $2.9 million. The bulk of the cost will be drawing the blood and shipping it to Canada and Germany, where researchers will measure the nutrient levels, McLean said. This is what makes the work unique, she added.

"We want to be able to go out at the end of this and inform the food security and nutrition community in the world whether or not this works," she said. "So much money has been thrown at things without that answer, without a rigorous design."

The study will be funded by Canada's International Development Research Centre and the Canadian government. The team is also working closely with Cambodian government officials, who will be in a position to continue the projects if they prove beneficial, McLean said.

Read more!

Friday, June 22, 2012

China-Cambodia Ties Under Scrutiny in Arrest of French Citizen

"It's saying that the no-strings-attached aid to Cambodia from China, after all, does have strings."

A general view of the home of French architect Patrick Henri Devillers is pictured in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 21, 2012.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodian authorities are saying little about the case of a French national believed to be connected to disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai.  Patrick Devillers was arrested June 13 in Phnom Penh at China's request.

Since confirming the arrest of Patrick Devillers this week, Cambodia has offered few details about why the French national was arrested, and on what grounds he continues to be detained.

Authorities say his arrest was spurred by a request from China. It's believed China wants to question Devillers about his relationship with Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai. Gu Kailai is under investigation for the murder in China last year of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Yet foreign ministry officials told reporters Devillers would not be sent to either China or France without some evidence he had committed a crime.

On Friday, government spokesman Phay Siphan declined to discuss the issue, except to say that Cambodia is being careful to follow procedure in what is a sensitive case.

"It's an issue of procedure,"he said. That's why Cambodia needs more time to find out what's going on. And for the time being, he's still in Cambodia."

Cambodia now finds itself entangled in one of China's biggest political scandals. Heywood had close ties to Bo Xilai, who was ousted as Communist Party chief of the city of Chongqing. But those ties had soured and Heywood's death led to the end of Bo's career.

China has considerable influence in Cambodia, having provided hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans with easy terms.

Cambodia still relies on foreign aid to supplement its national budget, and in recent years, the government has increasingly turned to China to offset its dependence on Western nations.

"It's saying a lot. It's saying that the no-strings-attached aid to Cambodia from China, after all, does have strings," said Ou Virak, the head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. "There are strings after all. The Chinese government does want favors and does ask Cambodia [to meet] certain conditions as well, and Cambodia tends to comply with what is asked of them by China."

In 2009, Cambodia was widely criticized after authorities deported 20 Uighur asylum-seekers to China. Their fates remain a mystery.
Read more!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Murder of environmentalists appears on the rise

In this photo taken, Feb. 6, 2012, and released by The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Chut Wutty, left, stands next to a log in a jungle in Kampong Thom province in northern of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (AP Photo

AP) BANGKOK - The eulogies called Chut Wutty one of the few remaining activists in Cambodia brave enough to fight massive illegal deforestation by the powerful. The environmental watchdog was shot by a military policeman in April as he probed logging operations in one of the country's last great forests.

Nisio Gomes was the chief of a Brazilian tribe struggling to protect its land from ranchers. Masked men gunned him down in November; his body, quickly dragged into a pickup, has not been seen since.

Around the world, sticking up for the environment can be deadly, and it appears to be getting deadlier.

People who track killings of environmental activists say the numbers have risen dramatically in the last three years. Improved reporting may be one reason, they caution, but they also believe the rising death toll is a consequence of intensifying battles over dwindling supplies of natural resources, particularly in Latin America and Asia.

Killings have occurred in at least 34 countries, from Brazil to Egypt, and in both developing and developed nations, according to an Associated Press review of data and interviews.
Read more!

Cambodia ponders fate of Frenchman in Bo Xilai case

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A French architect embroiled in China's biggest political scandal in two decades is in custody in Cambodia where authorities are deciding whether he should be extradited to China, a senior police officer said on Wednesday.

Patrick Henri Devillers, 52, had close business ties with the family of deposed Chinese politician Bo Xilai. He also had a close personal relationship with Bo's wife, who has been named as a suspect in last November's murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Cambodian Deputy National Police Commissioner Sok Phal said Devillers was in detention while the authorities investigated the case.

"We don't know where we will send him to, but we have an extradition treaty with China," he said. "They asked us to arrest him, we arrested him and we can hold him for 60 days."

He declined to answer further questions. The French embassy in Phnom Penh had confirmed Devillers' arrest on Tuesday but declined comment on Wednesday.

China's Foreign Ministry was no more revealing. "I have no information about that to provide to you," spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

China has not said publicly whether Devillers is accused of any crime. Neither Bo nor his wife, Gu Kailai, has been seen in public since mid-March, when Bo was stripped of his post as Communist Party secretary of Chongqing in southwest China.

A friend of Devillers, fellow Frenchman Dimitri Bouvet, told Reuters he had last seen him on June 13. A second friend, businessman Pierre Yves Clais, also said he thought that was the last time Devillers had been seen in public.

Clais said another friend had told him he had gone with Devillers for lunch at a restaurant in Phnom Penh with two Cambodians, a man and a woman, who were apparently interested in buying some land Devillers owned in the coastal town of Kep.

"It was a set-up: he was invited to lunch by Chinese-speaking Cambodians and then he disappeared," Clais said.

Clais described the architect as a respected figure in the French community in Phnom Penh and said he believed he had been living there for four or five years.

Last week, the head of the discipline apparatus of China's Communist Party, He Guoqiang, visited Cambodia for three days. His position makes him one of the senior officials overseeing Bo's case.

Cambodia is a close ally of China, which is a big aid donor and investor in the Southeast Asian country.
Cambodia has cooperated with China in past extraditions, notably the deportation of 20 Uighurs, members of a minority group in Western China, who had sought asylum from the United Nations in Phnom Penh in 2009. Read more!

Cambodia: Reality TV reunites families torn apart by Khmer Rouge

Harnessing the emotional trauma of one of the 20th century’s most tragic episodes — a nearly four-year ultracommunist revolution that left a quarter of Cambodia’s population dead — the reality TV show “It’s Not a Dream” is jarringly raw
Moung Sokhem (second from left) reunites with estranged children Ramary (left) and Sokhoeun (right in black suit)
Moung Ramary cries as she holds the arm of her long-lost father Moung Sokhem

The television host asked Moung Ramary about her estranged father as cameras zoomed in on her anguished face and panned across the studio audience. Moung Ramary, who today is a photogenic and expressive 33-year-old woman, was in her mother’s womb when in 1979, in the days after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, her parents separated, she explained to her inquisitor. As the host teased out tears by prodding her to talk about her sorrowful childhood, the father she had never met was just a few yards away, hidden by a wall but watching her talk through a live video feed. Harnessing the emotional trauma of one of the 20th century’s most tragic episodes — a nearly four-year ultracommunist revolution that left a quarter of Cambodia’s population dead — the reality TV show “It’s Not a Dream” is jarringly raw.

Three months earlier, Moung Ramary was flipping through channels when she came across the television program on which she would soon appear. “I started watching and saw how they helped people find lost family members, so I decided to call in,” she told TIME the day before her reunion. The show, which airs on the Cambodian network Bayon, debuted in 2010 and is modeled on a program in neighboring Vietnam that reunited family members who were separated during the country’s years of civil strife in the 1960s and ’70s. Most people in the Cambodian version were separated during the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975 to ’79, during which some 2 million Cambodians died from starvation, overwork or execution. The regime often forcefully split families as part of a wider policy to destroy traditional bonds. It also banned schooling, religion and any other belief system or institution it deemed a threat to its authority. By the same Orwellian logic, they frequently arranged marriages between strangers to ensure their union was purely procreational.

That’s what happened to Moung Ramary’s parents. “I hadn’t known her, I didn’t have any feelings towards her,” Moung Sokhem, now in his 60s, said matter-of-factly of Moung Ramary’s mother, speaking to TIME at his home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh a few days before he appeared on the show. Moung Sokhem was unschooled but skilled at menial labor, which made him a model citizen in the eyes of cadres who oversaw their village. Moung Ramary’s mother, on the other hand, was a classic class enemy: urban and educated, a fact that she hid in order to avoid being targeted. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, their forced marriage unraveled.

Moung Ramary’s case is unique in that her parents chose to separate. Most of the more than 1,000 cases submitted to the television show involve loved ones who were torn apart against their will. After the Khmer Rouge were toppled in 1979, most Cambodians marched for days or weeks back to their birthplace in search of estranged family members. Others sought refuge in sprawling camps along the border with Thailand as remnants of the fallen Khmer Rouge army continued to wage war in parts of the countryside. To this day, most Cambodians have a close relative whose fate is uncertain.

Yet, the country has never had a top-level initiative to help estranged family members reunite. Most Cambodians still survive on a couple of dollars a day and lack the resources to conduct far-flung investigations. Prak Sokhemyouk, the reality show’s producer, says “It’s Not a Dream” is designed to fill this gap. She also hopes it will teach young Cambodians about a horrific episode of their country’s history that they may know little about. Many parents avoid talking about this dark era, and younger generations’ ignorance of what happened has been compounded by the absence of Khmer Rouge history in the national curriculum until just a few years ago. Addressing those years remains sensitive for the government because many current officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, participated in the revolution. Even the producer Prak Sokhemyouk admits that until she worked on the TV show, she avoided hearing about the Khmer Rouge years because she found the facts of her country’s self-destruction too painful and inexplicable.

Some Cambodians and international observers hoped that a war-crimes court opened in Phnom Penh in 2007 would provide a foundation for national reconciliation. In 2010, the chief of an infamous torture center was sentenced to 35 years in jail — a term that was recently extended to life. Tens of thousands of Cambodians attended his trial and many more followed testimony on television. Legal wrangling, political interference and delays have beset subsequent prosecutions. Besides, argues Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center for Cambodia, a nonprofit group that collects research about the Khmer Rouge, the tribunal has a narrow scope. The goal is to prosecute crimes within a limited jurisdiction, he says, not to provide a venue for national catharsis.

The absence of wider venues for Cambodians to address their suffering has exacerbated the psychological toll, say mental-health experts. For survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s rule, simply discussing what they experienced is therapeutic, says Chhim Sotheara, a psychiatrist with the Phnom Penh–based NGO Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia. Various studies have found that between a third and more than half of Cambodians who lived through the 1975-79 revolution subsequently suffered from posttraumatic stress. However, few receive care. Though some have access to help from NGOs, government assistance for mental health is essentially nonexistent. “It’s Not a Dream” then treads a fine line between stirring up pain for the cameras and, sometimes, providing a form of joyous resolution.

The reunions, of course, are not always jubilant. In one of the most emotional episodes — there have only been 17 so far — a brother was reunited with his two sisters. Holding her brother on stage, one sister’s first words to him were: “Our parents are dead. The rest of our siblings are dead. It’s just us.” Moung Ramary’s reunion was less painful, but equally dramatic. When her father went on stage, she prostrated herself before him, according to Cambodian tradition, and he fell to his knees to embrace her. They could barely form words for one another. “I want to live with love and warmth, I don’t want to feel hatred or malice,” Moung Ramary had said in an interview before her reunion. Since being reconnected with her father, she has regularly visited him and his new family — meetings that she says have helped give her closure.

In contrast to the ever more scripted and trivial reality TV that’s proliferated in the U.S. — shows built around loud personalities and dubious everyday scenarios — “It’s Not a Dream” produces the kind of convulsive sobs and clenched hugs that’s the stuff of genuine documentary. But even when working with such profound material, a bit of stagecraft is needed. At one point in the middle of Moung Ramary’s shoot, Prak Sokhemyouk walked onto the stage and whispered a message to the host. She was telling him to hurry up, the producer explained after the show. “We were losing the emotion.”

Read more!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cambodian 'sorcerers' damned to exile .

Villagers accused of sorcery sit at a house in Saleav village in Ratanakkiri province. Photograph: David Boyle/Phnom Penh Post

The women of Saleav village burst into hysterical, indignant laughter at the suggestion that they eat human flesh or uncooked meat, as they nurture their young – children condemned to grow up as exiles.

Tucked away in a remote area of Ratanakkiri’s Bakeo district, for more than two and a half decades, accused sorcerers have been banished to this barren outpost by various indigenous minority groups whose belief in the occult still thrives.

“I am so angry when they said that my village is a sorcerer village. I am not eating human, blood or uncooked meat; I am eating food just like other people do,” 17-year-old Ramas Voeun says, holding her baby in a krama.

Alternating between amusement and anger, the young ethnic Jarai mother says preposterous accusations were levelled against her family by the former neighbours who expelled them from Nhang village in Andong Meas distict, such as the assertion that they ate their own children.

“I would like to ask to everyone to stop saying that my village is a sorcerer village, because some people who are sorcerers have already been killed,” she says.

Brutal killings, including a case in which an alleged sorcerer was hacked to death by axe-wielding villagers, are not uncommon in Cambodia and have led authorities to take unusual actions in Ratanakkiri.

Some 20 families have been forced to relocate to Saleav village, and though many of them believe in black magic, they say they have been falsely accused and do not want their children to grow up with the stigma of coming from the sorcerer village.

About five years ago, 44-year-old Ra Chorm Veuch fled nearby Khoun village, fearing for her life after some villagers got sick then claimed she had subsequently appeared in their dreams. Her fate was sealed with the accusation that she had “red eyes”.

Now when she leaves Saleav village to go somewhere such as the market in the provincial capital of Banlung, her interactions with others are inevitably abrubt.

“When I ask something from people who live near the market, they always give it to me, because they’re afraid that if they did not give to me and I am angry, I will perform magic on them,” she says.

Nearby residents confirm there is a strong suspicion of those living in Saleav – and it’s not a prejudice confined to the older population.

Fourteen-year-old Sok Tim says he did not believe in sorcery until he went to visit his exiled neighbours and contracted diarrhoea.

“Other people said that maybe a sorcerer did it to me, and I had to buy a chicken to pray for the sorcerer, and when I did it in the evening, the next day when I woke up, I was better,” he said.

Others warn if you aggravate the sorcerers in Saleav village, you will find yourself vomiting until you die.

Jan Ovesen, an associate professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, has been completing a research project on poverty, sorcery and social capital in Cambodia with cultural anthropologist Ing-Britt Trankell since 2008.

He says sorcery needs to be understood not as a natural fact of life but a symbolic practice triggered by social contexts.

“Anthropologists have long recognised that sorcery accusations, worldwide, are basically a mechanism for social exclusion, triggered by envy, jealousy, fear, revenge or political power aspirations, or some combination of these,” he says.

The fact that beliefs that centre on practices such as casting spells, invoking spirits, chanting mantras, fashioning amulets and writing magic signs are found around the world makes them no more credible but attests to their deep-seated nature in human psychology, he says.

Ma Vichet, police chief of Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district, says his department’s research has revealed that most common source of accusation – sickness – comes from poor sanitation, drinking water that had not boiled and people not washing their hands.

But he still challenged villages to deploy their own traditional test – a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” ritual reminiscent of medieval European witch hunts in which the accuser and accused must dip their finger in molten lead and sustain no burns to prove innocence.

“But they could not do, so recently, there have not been as many cases as there were in the past,” he said, adding that no one particularly wants to get their fingers burned. 

Another test they employ gives the accused a fighting chance – it tasks the alleged sorcerer to pinch the tips of an egg as hard as they can, and if it breaks, a feat of strength generally accepted to be beyond the limits of human strength, they will be found guilty.

Ramas Khvan, who was forced to move to Saleav village in 1996, said he passed both these test and another one in which the first person to run out of breath with their head under water was deemed guilty.

But he said it did not matter, because villages decided he had simply invoked magic to cheat.

“They still didn’t believe, so I had to ask the commune chief to live in that place that they opened for sorcerers,” he said.

He had good reason to move.

In 2001, three family members in Ratanakkiri, including a 7-year-old girl, were shackled and then drowned after being accused of sorcery, Pen Bonnar, provincial co-ordinator of the rights group Adhoc, says.

“What they did that time was very cruel, and the two people who were arrested by the court were only sentenced to six  months,” he says. 

His organisation has received 10 complaints since 2003 from villagers who received death threats after being accused of sorcery in Ratanakkiri, he adds.

The threats and violence are not just confined to the far northeast.

Other grizzly cases have included the fatal triple-stabbing of a man known only as Len in Kampong Thom province in 2001; the 2011 murder of Sieng Soeun, whose throat was slit in Kampong Speu province; and the hacking death of Mul Sophal, who was descended upon by axe-wielding villagers in the same province.

There are many more cases, and while belief in black magic is strongest among the heavily animistic indigenous ethnic minorities in Cambodia, the fear of ghosts and sorcerers has also strongly permeated into mainstream Buddhist culture.

Yet while Theravada Buddhism has developed as a hybridized, polytheistic religion incorporating Hindu gods and animistic beliefs, notions of black magic and sorcery have not gone unchallenged.

Ancient Cambodian fables from a collection known as the Gatiloke that were spread for centuries only by word of mouth, employ narratives in which magic is used to trick people out of their possessions or discriminate against them.

In The Story of Bhikkhu Sok, an ethnic Phnong villager travels down from the mountains to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri province during a great famine to try and find food amongst the lowland strangers. When he returns, new cooking skills he has learned raise the suspicions of villagers, who later hack him and all but one of his family members to death with razors after a neighbour falls ill and they believe it is because the returnee was practising black magic.

The child who escapes eventually makes it to Kratie province, where he is adopted and successfully becomes a monk – a narrative that undermines both the Phnong belief in sorcery and the prejudices of lowland Khmers to indigenous minorities.

In Ratanakkiri, the occult beliefs are also under attack from another religious source, Christian proselytising, which has come to the rescue of 51-year-old Rocham Char, an accused sorcerer in O’Yadav district Somkul village who was threatened with murder and exile last year.

The now mostly Christian villagers say they have abandoned their suspicions of him and are happy for him to stay, although his accuser, Kloeun Nhieu, still maintains he is a black magic practitioner.

Back in Saleav village, 24-year-old Lam Ba Kamphoeun maintains a strong belief in the power of black magic but says the craft is inherited through lines of lineage that do not extend beyond a few old people in the community.

He says it is unfair that young people there are discriminated against, despite the fact that they could not become sorcerers even if they wanted to.

“For us, as the young generation, we do not follow the sorcerer’s anymore. We don’t want to be sorcerers,” he says.
Read more!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cambodia may give villages to Vietnam

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, June 18 (UPI) -- Cambodia may have to cede two villages to Vietnam as a compromise while officials work to demarcate borders with Vietnam and Laos, a Cambodian official said.

The borders were renegotiated in 1985 but Cambodia is seeking to retain Thlok Trach and Anlung Chrey in Kampong Cham province. Va Kimhong, senior minister in charge of the Cambodian Border Affairs Committee, said the government would have to compromise to keep the two villages.

The Phnom Penh Post said Va Kimhong did not specify which villages would be given to Vietnam in exchange for retaining the territory.  Alleged Vietnamese encroachment on Cambodian territory stirs strong passions in Cambodia, the newspaper said.

A spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party says Cambodia shouldn't have to cede any territory, alleging the Vietnamese claim was based on an unacceptable 2005 supplementary treaty to the 1985 Treaty on Delimitation of National Boundaries between the two countries, the newspaper said. . Read more!

CIMB aiming to be top 10 in Cambodia

KUALA LUMPUR: CIMB Bank plc, which aims to be among the top 10 banks in Cambodia over the next five years, is targeting more than US$100mil (RM317mil ) in deposits and US$90mil (RM285mil) in total loan size by year-end.

Its deputy general manager and head of commercial banking Bun Yin said these targets were commendable judging from the fact that CIMB started operations more than a year ago and was a relatively new player in the Cambodian banking landscape.

In an interview with StarBiz on the sidelines of the CIMB Asean Conference recently, Bun said total deposits for the first three months of this year had actually exceeded the US$100mil mark and was confident loans and deposits would grow at a strong rate.

He said deposits was up by 54% in the first quarter of this year compared with the whole of last year, adding that loan for the same period rose by about 17%.

He attributed the encouraging growth to strong demand for loans as well as the ability of CIMB as a regional banking group with presence in the region to attract business from countries like Malaysia and Thailand which have investments in Cambodia.

Bun said there were many Thailand and Malaysia-based companies operating in Cambodia. Since CIMB also has a presence in these countries, it can leverage on its regional network and provide funding for these companies.

As for net interest margin (NIM) growth, he said it was healthy with margins hovering between 4% and 5%. NIM is a measure of the difference between the interest income generated by banks and the amount of interest paid out to depositors.

CIMB Bank plc started operations in Cambodia in November 2010 and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of CIMB Group Holdings Bhd. Its areas of focus in Cambodia are the small and medium enterprise and in retail banking which Bun feels it has good potential for further growth.

He said the bank would also look into enhancing its technology infrastructure in terms of electronic banking, automated teller machines (ATMs) and cash deposit machines. Introducing sophisticated products is another area which the bank would continue to look into to meet the demand and needs of its customers.

The dual currency investment product is one such example and had been well received. Bun admitted that it was a challenge for a country like Cambodia to embrace new technology and new products compared with traditional banking involving deposits and loans.

Towards this end, he said providing sufficient training to the bank's staff in educating customers to understand the benefits of the products had helped in addressing some of these challenges. The bank aims to become the top 10 bank in the country over the next five years from the current 15th out of 30 banks there.

Unlike some standalone banks, CIMB has the advantage of being a regional group and could provide support from various fronts human resource/expertise, businesses and customer base to its sister companies via its network in Asean.

Apart from this, with a common platform, for example allowing CIMB customers to conduct their ATM transactions within the region where the group operates was a plus point that would put the company on a stronger footing moving forward, he said.

As for competition, Bun said the market was still largely untapped. “With a population of about 14 million, out of which close to two million have a bank account, and with 30 banks in the market, there is plenty of room to grow,” he said.

The country, he said, offered good incentives for banks. Foreign banks are allowed to hold 100% equity stake in Cambodia banks and without the need for a joint venture, with no restrictions on repatriations of dividends imposed.

Currency risk was also minimal as transactions were in US dollars and hence less fluctuations in exchange rates, he said.  He expected the bank to open four more branches this year, bringing the total to 11.

“CIMB Bank in Cambodia will be one of the key players for the group in the region but this will depend on market conditions,” he added. . Read more!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

North Korea Wants To Reopen Six-Party Talks, Cambodian Foreign Minister Says

“So long as the US stops its hostilities against North Korea, stops its objection against North Korea, then North Korea will be able to dialogue with the US..."

Cambodia’s foreign minister met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Tuesday.

North Korea is open to reestablishing six-party talks on its nuclear program, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told top US officials this week.

Hor Namhong, who visited North Korea earlier this month, discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in talks with her on Tuesday, the minister told VOA Khmer in an exclusive TV interview in Washington Wednesday.

North Korea will open talks without pre-conditions, Hor Namhong said in the interview. But it does want to have a reactor that the US promised them long ago, he said.

“This is what they want,” he said.

North Korea pulled out of talks with five nations—China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US—in April 2009, following US condemnation of a failed satellite launch.

Hor Namhong said North Korea would also be willing to enter into direct talks with the US.

“So long as the US stops its hostilities against North Korea, stops its objection against North Korea, then North Korea will be able to dialogue with the US, to ensure there are no nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula,” Hor Namhong said. “I have already passed this message to Secretary Clinton.”

Cambodia will host a major Asean ministerial meeting in July, where Clinton is expected to attend. North Korean officials are also expected to attend the regional security conference. Read more!

Cambodian opposition seeks unity

By Irwin Loy

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's fragmented opposition parties are promising to work together rather than compete against each other for votes in the next election. All it took was another crushing victory at the polls by the country's ruling party.

Few expected the governing Cambodian People's Party, with Prime Minister Hun Sen at its helm, to lose in nationwide local elections held here June 3. Yet the way in which it won - securing 97% of commune chief seats nationwide - was particularly decisive.

If the election was a barometer to gauge the political climate ahead of key parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013, then it showed that a great deal of work lies ahead for what is still a divided opposition.

 Just as troubling for the opposition is that more Cambodians than in previous elections are choosing not to vote. Election monitors say the June election drew roughly 60% of registered voters. This suggests a trend of declining voter turnout, from the 67% that voted in the previous commune elections in 2007, and the 87% who turned up a decade ago.

 The sagging numbers could be hurting the opposition more than the ruling CPP. "

The CPP know how to motivate their supporters to come to vote," says Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, a local rights group. "They try to facilitate everything for the voters to come to vote."

 While the CPP has controlled the political landscape in Cambodia for the better part of two decades, the two largest opposition groups - the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party - run separate campaigns even though both promote a similar social justice agenda.

 Saray says sympathetic would-be voters may be choosing to stay home, unable to see a viable alternative to the ruling party in a divided opposition.

"If they are separate, if they are divided among themselves like this, the voters don't expect to have political change through the election because they already see the results," Saray says. "One big party competes with the two small parties. You see the results."

Those results saw the Sam Rainsy Party lose ground this month, even in areas where it is traditionally strong, such as the capital, Phnom Penh. At the same time, the Human Rights Party, competing in its first commune elections, walked away with almost as many commune chief seats as the more established SRP.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, says both parties were expecting a larger return at the polls, eager for momentum before next year's important parliamentary elections. Rather than the opposition gaining ground, however, the CPP merely cemented its dominance.

Virak says the results should come as a wake-up call to the opposition. He says the parties should join forces or merge if they have any hope of mounting a significant challenge to the CPP next year.

 "Smart politicians will definitely consider that and look at that option," Virak says. "That's probably the best option for them now."

The parties have floated the idea of a merger before , but failed to hammer out a deal before the election. The HRP's performance this month may give it an added bargaining chip.

In an interview, party president Kem Sokha said the low voter turnout this election is a concern. He says the two opposition parties need to cooperate "for the sake of the Cambodian people."

"For us, we want to merge into one political party," Sokha says. "Because if we remain separate, with separate voter lists, different political parties, we cannot combine our votes together against the ruling party."

The SRP, for several years the clearest opposition to CPP rule in Cambodia, appears to be more amenable to the idea than in the past. Party leader Sam Rainsy remains in self-exile in Europe after fleeing prosecution for incitement that was widely seen as politically motivated. In a telephone interview after the election, Rainsy said his goal is to "unite all the opposition forces".

The two parties plan to meet for discussions in July. But whether all the personalities can co-exist is a question mark. Rainsy, for his part, appears eager to remain the opposition figurehead.

"I don't say if. I say when I return, inevitably in the near future, the potential of the SRP will come back," Rainsy says. "If some voters were demotivated because of my being absent, when I return, my name is going to mobilize people."

Before the opposition can mount a united campaign going into next year's elections, it will have to find a compromise among its own ranks. That, says the CCHR's Ou Virak, will be no less of a challenge.

"It's so difficult to get these two parties to be strategic," Virak says. "Most of them believe they'd rather see the other parties, the other politicians, just vanish, and not participate. I don't see them being able to actually overcome this. I think it's going to be very difficult."

Either way, much would have to change in the next 13 months for the CPP to relinquish its dominance over Cambodian politics. In the June election, opposition parties attempted to exploit growing discontent around controversial land evictions. A series of violent publicized evictions before the vote left the government open to criticism.

Yet while the SRP and HRP's social justice platforms may speak to human rights concerns and the increasing number of Cambodians affected by land disputes, the election results showed that many more Cambodians are just as willing to park their votes with a government that has overseen steady economic growth and relative stability following years of war. And that may be something even a united opposition will have difficulty overcoming. Read more!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

US calls for fair elections in Cambodia

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the media at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the media at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is urging Cambodia to allow diverse participation in next year's general elections and release women who were imprisoned last month for protesting a property development.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, in talks Tuesday, discussed the importance of "appropriate participation across the political spectrum" in the 2013 elections.

But Nuland said Wednesday that it was "an issue for the Cambodians" whether opposition leader Sam Rainsy is allowed to take part in the vote. Rainsy lives in exile in France following 2010 convictions in Cambodia that he claims were politically motivated.

This year, Cambodia is the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional grouping that Washington wants to engage more actively as the Obama administration steps up the U.S. diplomatic and security presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Cambodian's prime minister, Hun Sen, has dominated the Southeast Asian nation for nearly three decades. Rights groups accuse him of squelching dissent and intimidating political opponents.

Last month, 13 women were sentenced by a Cambodian court to 2½ years in prison for protesting their eviction from the land where their homes once stood. The case was seen as emblematic of a broader problem of forcible evictions of poor Cambodians to make way for property development in its fast-growing economy.

Their houses were demolished in 2010 to make way for a Chinese company's development of a hotel, office buildings and luxury houses in Phnom Penh's Boueng Kak lake area. The women were found guilty of aggravated rebellion and illegal occupation after attempting to reconstruct their homes. Four have reportedly begun a hunger strike in prison.

Nuland said Clinton urged Cambodia grant the detainees due process, and said their release "would be a sign of support for freedom of expression." Read more!

DefenseChina Denies Delivery of Missile Launchers to N. Korea

North Korea Rocket Launch
North Korea Rocket Launch

Beijing has denied media reports that a Chinese company allegedly supplied Pyongyang with four ballistic missile launchers last year in a breach of UN sanctions.

Japanese media reported on Wednesday that South Korean, U.S. and Japanese satellites detected the delivery of mobile missile launchers to North Korea by sea.

“Chinese companies do not supply North Korea with equipment banned by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council,”  Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

The spokesman said China “maintains constant dialogue with all sides [in talks] on nuclear non-proliferation in N. Korea and strictly complies with UN laws and regulations.”

 In April, Washington accused Chinese company Hubei Sanjiang of selling components used in constructing missile launchers to North Korea.

The accusations came after Western defense experts spotted what appeared to be Chinese-made 16-wheel transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) at a military parade in North Korea to mark the centenary of the birth of its late founding leader Kim Il-sung.

 Japan’s Asahi Shimbun said in its report on Wednesday the vehicles were transported on a Cambodia-registered ship Harmony Wish, which arrived in North Korea on August 4, 2011. Japanese coast guard officials later inspected the vehicle and found a document detailing the export of the vehicles.

 North Korea, which withdrew from the six-party disarmament talks on its nuclear program three years ago, agreed in February to suspend uranium enrichment, as well as nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for U.S. food aid, opening the way for the restart of negotiations.

However, the UN Security Council tightened its sanctions against N. Korea late in April over the failed ballistic launch, which Pyongyang said was to put a weather satellite into orbit. . Read more!

Report: China Shipped Missile Launch Vehicles to North Korea

Japanese officials say China has violated a U.N. embargo by supplying North Korea with vehicles capable of transporting and launching ballistic missiles.

 Local media Wednesday quoted government sources as saying that a Chinese company sent four giant, 16-wheel missile launch vehicles to North Korea last August.

The Asahi Shimbun, which first reported the story, said the U.S. has not publicly criticized China over the matter because it does not want to embarrass Beijing and because it needs China's support to help stifle Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

 Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin denied the allegations Wednesday, saying Beijing has not violated the U.N. resolutions prohibiting the sale of arms, training,  and other assistance to Pyongyang.

“I want to stress that Chinese companies did not export items banned by relevant security council resolutions and China's own laws and regulations. The relevant reports were not true.”

 In April, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that China has provided “some help” to North Korea with its ballistic missile program through trade and technology exchanges.

 His comments came after Western defense experts spotted what appeared to be Chinese-made missile launch vehicles prominently displayed at a military parade in North Korea, which does not have the technology to make such vehicles.

 The Asahi Shimbun said in its report Wednesday the vehicles exported from China were likely the same ones in the military parade.

The report said the vehicles were transported on a Cambodia-registered ship, which was tracked U.S., Japanese and South Korean spy satellites as it arrived in North Korea on August 4. Japanese coast guard officials later inspected the vehicle and found a document detailing the export of the vehicles.

 After defense experts spotted the missile launch vehicles in April, China's foreign ministry vigorously denied any wrongdoing on Beijing's part, saying China had not violated the resolution.

 Beijing has been uncharacteristically critical of its ally North Korea following Pyongyang's failed satellite launch in April, which Western nations said was a disguised long-range missile test – also banned under U.N. sanctions. Read more!

China may fund Cambodia-Vietnam rail

A tuk-tuk crosses railway tracks on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last year. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia was in discussions with the Chinese government on funding for a 250-kilometre stretch of rail line between Phnom Penh and Vietnam, in what Cambodian officials yesterday called a move away from a “complicated” Asian Development Bank loan.

Va Sim Sorya, director general at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said the government could do without the requirements tagged to ADB loans, and fund the project with up to US$600 million in Chinese backing.

 “China doesn’t have so many conditions, but Chinese technicians are still well-studied,” he said yesterday at a workshop on infrastructure, although he did not specify which conditions were undesirable.

Interest rates on ADB concessional loans averaged an annual 1.32 per cent after grace periods, according to data compiled by NGO Forum for Cambodia last year.

China’s concessional lending held the highest rates from any institution or country at an average 1.83 per cent per year.

 ADB’s social safeguard policy from 2009 listed several requirements for compensating and restoring income to those affected by its rail project, although some NGOs have claimed that the bank has not followed some of the specifications.

Loans from China did not appear to have any such conditions.

 “ADB stands by its very comprehensive and well-developed safeguards. That’s something that comes along with the loans,” Peter Brimble, deputy country head at ADB Cambodia, said yesterday. Projects implemented by China happened more quickly than those by “other parties”, Tram Iv Teuk, Minister of Public Works and Transportation, added yesterday.

The railway rehabilitation project on the country’s northern and southern lines – of which the majority was funded by ADB – saw substantial setbacks earlier this year when concessional holder Toll Royal quietly suspended its operation, reportedly because the project was taking too long.

 Now, a 300-kilometre section of track on the northern line lacks the funding to be completed, ADB said last month.

Finding new sources of funding was the responsibility of the government, the bank noted. Yesterday’s announcement from the government met with strong opposition from Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, saying Chinese companies have built low-quality roads and other infrastructure at higher interest rates.

 “We don’t oppose the need to get funding to serve the national economy, but it must be done transparently,” he said, adding that no bidding process existed for such projects. Read more!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Strongman of Cambodia

critics hoping for his demise. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based NGO, recently compared Hun Sen with the series of notorious autocrats recently ousted from power in the Arab world. Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi: men who ruled by threat and force.

His sentiments were backed loudly by one of Cambodia’s long-serving opposition leaders, Sam Rainsy. He insists from self-imposed exile that his country is primed for an Arab spring and reckons he’s the man to lead it. (The Cambodian government regards him as a fugitive, having convicted him on charges of spreading false information.)

 Their problem is that Hun Sen, who according to Mr Adams’s calculations is one of the world’s top-ten longest-serving political leaders,  keeps on winning elections—as he did again, just this week.

 In regional terms Cambodia’s commune elections are a minor affair. The country has 1,633 communes, or clusters of villagers, which choose their local leaders once every five years. Their main value for outsiders is in offering rare insight into the prime minister’s popularity and that of his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

The CPP already held an overwhelming majority of communes, which reflects the enormous support it enjoys among Cambodia’s predominantly rural voters.  The ruling party went into the polls with control of 1,592 of the communes. It appears set to match that and also to increase its majorities within the communes. At last count it had won 11,459 seats, which is about 200 more than they took at the previous poll, five years ago.

Nine other parties contested the CPP in Sunday’s poll. More than 15,000 national and international observers were tasked with keeping watch for voter fraud, intimidation and other “irregularities”.

The complaints the observers heard were not insignificant. They included charges that the government used the police and army to help it campaign; that the opposition’s access to the media was limited; and that radio stations were instructed by the information ministry not to carry certain stories. Influential CPP officials were seen at polling booths, where they are alleged to have tried intimidating voters into supporting their candidates.

But even this hardly compared with the spate of election-related murders and bullying that plagued voting in the 1990s and early 2000s At least 20 deaths were blamed on the violence that marked the first commune polls, in 2002.

An independent watchdog organisation, Comfrel, said this election marked an improvement on previous polls. There were, at least, fewer instances of violence, intimidation and the rest.

The biggest change in this poll was a sharp drop in the rate of participation. It may have been low as 54%, compared with the 87% rate recorded 10 years ago, or the 84% seen at the general elections of 1993—when 380 people were killed in the attendant violence.

Critics contend that fewer people voted because there is widespread disenchantment with the incumbent as well as a sense of inevitability about the outcome. That may be, but it’s worth noting that only the opposition parties suffered a fall in votes.

The most obvious outcome was that the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lost ground in their traditional strongholds, like Phnom Penh, the capital, after failing to capitalise on the perennial issues that plague Cambodia.

Corruption, a culture of impunity among the politically connected and violent land-grabs have sullied the government’s reputation. This was underscored by the recent killing of a prominent environmentalist, Chhut Vuthy, and the jailing of 13 women who had become visible for their protests against land-grabs in the capital.

What many of Hun Sen’s critics fail to understand, particularly those who would hope to inspire an Arab-spring-like uprising, is that Cambodians remember very well what a dreadful business civil war can be. In 1998 Hun Sen achieved where UN promises had failed and ended 30 years of a conflict that had left millions dead.

For that reason many Cambodians are still prepared to overlook the bloody indiscretions and brutal tactics of the ruling party—and willing to carry Hun Sen to repeated victories. The chances of fermenting a Khmer spring are remote, and might seem plausible only to a self-imposed exile abroad. Read more!

Cambodian airport traffic soars despite global slump .

Passenger traffic at Cambodia’s three main airports climbed by 21.8 per cent during the year to date compared to the same period last year, according to data released yesterday by Cambodia Airports.

“Despite the global economic uncertainty, traffic growth to Cambodia has been robust and consistent, a testament to the attractiveness of the country, both as a business and a tourism destination,” according to a statement from the company, which referred to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville international airports. 

The airport operator expects the airport will receive more than two million passengers in 2012.

The company plans to expand capacity to 4 million passengers.

 Aircraft movement was up 3.9 per cent and 8.7 per cent in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap respectively, the data showed. Passengers traffic increased by about 16 per cent and 23 per cent at the two airports. Read more!

China donates mini-buses, office supplies to Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue, on behalf the Chinese government, handed over million-yuan worth donation to Cambodian Senate Friday, further cementing the two countries' friendly relations.

Cambodian Senate will receive three minibuses, five printers, nine scanners, 30 desktops, 30 laptops and one telephone extension system worth some 158,000 U.S. dollars.

At the handover ceremony, Pan spoke highly of Cambodia's firm and constant stance on one-China policy and appreciated Phnom Penh's support on regional and international issues concerning China' s core interests. "China sees Cambodia as a good friend, a good neighbor, a good partner and a brother. Chinese people treat Cambodian people's hardship as their own and will continue assisting Cambodia's social and economic development,"he said.

Tep Ngorn, the 2nd vice president of the Cambodian Senate, conveyed Senate President Chea Sim's gratitude to the Chinese donation to Pan, saying the office supplies will effectively improve Cambodian senators'working condition and help cement the two countries' relations.

 According to Tep Ngorn, since established in 1999, Cambodian Senate had received over 14 million dollar worth assistance from China.

He expressed the hope for more cooperation in the fields of investment and tourism. "I hope that more and more Chinese investors will know more about Cambodia and pour their money into this country, and more Chinese tourists can choose Cambodia as their travel destination," he said. . Read more!

Cambodian FM to visit US next week

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Chair of 2012 ASEAN, will lead a delegation to pay an official visit to the United States of America on June 12, according to a press release from the Foreign Ministry on Friday.

 During the visit, Hor Namhong will have a bilateral talk with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said the press release. Also, he will have a separate meeting with Senator Jim Webb, Chairman of the Sub-Committee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, and Daniel Russel, Special Assistant to the President Barack Obama in charge of East Asian Affairs.

Besides, Hor Namhong will make an address on "Cambodia's development and Cambodia-US relations" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, it said.  The visit was made at the invitation of Hillary Clinton on May 17. "Your visit would be an important opportunity to identify ways in which we can work together to broaden our bilateral relationship and advance common regional goals during your leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations," she said in the invitation letter.

She added that the visit would also deepen mutual understanding and identify ways to promote regional stability and ensure shared prosperity for US and Cambodia, and the wider Asia Pacific region. . Read more!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

North Korea To Attend Regional Talks in July

North Korea’s foreign minister will make an official visit to Cambodia in July, when Phnom Penh hosts an Asean regional forum, officials said Thursday.

The visit of Pak Ui-chun follows a five-day trip by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, which ended Thursday.

Hor Namhong told reporters that his trip had been to improve cooperation between the two countries, which enjoy cordial relations. 

North Korea will participate in ministerial meetings at the Asean Regional Forum, which begins July 13 and is expected to include 27 countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he did not know whether the North Korean nuclear issues would be a part of those meetings, although Asean officials have said in the past they are dedicated to keeping the region nuclear-weapons free. Read more!

Should Cambodian 'blood antiquities' be returned?

By Mark V. Vlasic and Tess Davis, Special to CNN

This kneeling figure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was estimated to have been carved around 921 to 945.
This kneeling figure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was estimated to have been carved around 921 to 945

Editor's note: Mark V. Vlasic, a senior fellow and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, served as the first head of operations of the joint United Nations-World Bank Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative and leads the international practice at Madison Law & Strategy Group PLLC. Tess Davis is the executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and is working with Cambodia to combat the illicit trade in the kingdom's antiquities.

 (CNN) -- The last time most New Yorkers focused on pillaged antiquities from Cambodia was likely after the release of the Angelina Jolie film "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," which featured the heroine's adventures through the country's famous archaeological wonder, Angkor Wat.

 Now, real "tomb raiding" is making the news as the Cambodian government seeks to recover antiquities allegedly plundered from the kingdom's ancient sites during its civil war, ethnic cleansing and foreign occupation.

 At Cambodia's request, the United States recently filed suit in U.S. District Court against Sotheby's in New York, demanding that the auction house forfeit a sandstone warrior that was "illicitly removed," according to the complaint, from a remote jungle temple. But according to a recent New York Times story, Cambodia has now set its sights on another Manhattan institution: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has specifically targeted the highlight of its Southeast Asian collection: two kneeling figures that archaeologists declare are companions to the contested Sotheby's piece.

 If these stones could speak, what a story they would tell.

 Carved in the 10th century by some of the most skilled artisans known to history, they originally adorned the sanctuary of Prasat Chen, at the temple complex of Koh Ker. Experts believe that with other characters, they formed a three dimensional tableau from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata for a millennium. They say that came to an end when paramilitary groups trafficked them, sculpture by sculpture, overseas.

 What a strange twist of fate: Having traveled halfway around the world, quite possibly through the illicit and licit markets, the three disputed objects are now just miles apart in New York City.

 Phnom Penh's forceful request for their return has alarmed the less scrupulous in the art world, and with good reason: They have a lot to lose if the art is repatriated. American and European galleries, auction houses and museums are allegedly full of Cambodian plunder. Many of these artifacts were allegedely stolen during the country's long conflict, making them "blood antiquities," little different than "blood diamonds" from Sierra Leone and other war-torn African states.

 The years before, during, and after the Killing Fields decimated the Cambodian population and led to the looting of most of the nation's archaeological sites. Yet sadly, now that Cambodia is at peace and in a position to recover its rightful property, some collectors are portraying themselves as the victims. 

In the wake of the Sotheby's case, one Asian specialist lamented the "crisis" now facing collectors. She warned that such legal actions "threaten the very future of collecting and collecting museums" and the "next generation of collectors, donors and patrons." Such histrionics aside, it will always be difficult and expensive for countries such as Cambodia to recover their pillaged heritage through the courts, even when in the right.

 Especially when its acquisition may have been made possible by tragedies such as the Holocaust, Cambodia's killing fields or even the more recent looting of the Baghdad Museum during the Iraq war, the real issue is why any collector or museum would want to possess stolen art?

Thankfully, individuals and institutions who would argue to keep looted art are a minority and do as much disservice to their fellows as they do to victims of the illicit art trade. Indeed, many have voluntarily repatriated antiquities to Cambodia, once learning they were wartime plunder. The Met is no exception, having itself returned a valuable piece to the country in 1997 at its own initiative.

There is much common ground between archaeologists, collectors and curators, as all share a love of the past, if not an outright obsession with it. Archaeologists recognize that there will always be, and should be, a legal market for antiquities, just as most collectors and curators agree that the looting of archaeological sites and trafficking of antiquities must be stopped.

Indeed, if there is to be any real progress, both sides of the issue will likley have to make concessions. But as campaigns like Cambodia's demonstrate, the art world must reconsider what is ethically acceptable. And today, the sale, purchase and exhibition of "blood antiquities" is not only deplorable, it may actually be criminal. (The sale, possession, and transport of stolen property is illegal under the National Stolen Property Act.)

Sotheby's and the Met have a choice: They can treat Cambodia's requests as obstacles, or recognize them as the opportunities they are to right past wrongs and set the moral standard for the entire field. For Cambodia's sake, as well as their own -- and for all of humanity that finds these treasures important -- let us hope that they choose wisely. Read more!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Russian pedophile arrested in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, June 6 (UPI) -- A known Russian pedophile was arrested in Cambodia and is now awaiting deportation, officials say.

Alexander Tro­fimov, a Russian national also known as Stanislav Molodyakov, was arrested Monday in Kandal province's Ponhea Leu commune, The Phnom Penh Post reported.

 "We have been trying to arrest him for months. As of now, he's in detention at the Department of Immigration. We must deport him soon following the order from the [Interior] minister.  But we are now discussing about the deportation," National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said.

Activists said they welcome the arrest and deportation, but say it didn't come soon enough.

Tro­fimov was convicted of sexually abusing 17 Cambodian girls from 2005 to 2007. In December, he was given a royal pardon and released from prison after serving just half of his eight-year sentence. He is also wanted by Interpol for allegedly raping six girls in Russia.

 "This sends a message that there should be an amendment to the law … to make it mandatory for any child sex convict to be deported from the country," said Samleang Seila, director of Action Pour Les Enfants.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said Trofimov should be extradited to Russia for prosecution there, but said further questions remained about how Trofimov eluded the authorities for so long.

 "The Cambodian government cannot just wash its hands by deporting Trofimov and calling the case closed. There also needs to be a serious and impartial investigation about how these events came to pass," he said. . Read more!

Cambodia, UN hold forum to promote women's entrepreneurship

Phnom Penh, June 6 (Xinhua-ANI): Cambodia's ministry of women' s affairs and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on Wednesday jointly organized a forum on women's entrepreneurship promotion to discuss challenges women are facing in business management.

The one-day forum was attended by some 80 high-level government representatives, international experts, leaders of women's business associations, women's producers groups, entrepreneurs and economic experts, Ing Kantha Phavi, minister of women's affairs, said in her opening address.

 "The event is aimed at creating a platform of exchange and a network among the key players in the government of Cambodia, development partners, and private sector to identify the specific challenges that women entrepreneurs usually experience and explore some of the good practices on how to overcome these constraints," she said.

 In Cambodia, more than 60 percent of micro, small- and medium- sized enterprises are owned by women, but those enterprises are very small and informal ones with only a few employees, she said, adding that those women business owners still face a different kind of challenges compared to their male fellow-entrepreneurs.

Those challenges include limited access to adequate skills training, land ownership, access to advanced education, more importantly access to markets, business information or financial resources, she added. "I believe that the forum will identify some of the key priorities for improving the economic status of Cambodian women," said the minister.

The UNDP deputy country director Sophie Baranes said at the forum that the economic empowerment of women is a key strategy to promote gender equality and poverty reduction in Cambodia and it is clearly articulated in specific targets under the Cambodian Millennium Development Goal 3 to be achieved by 2015. (Xinhua-ANI) . Read more!

Malaysian Couple Breaks Maid’s Jaw

A Cambodian maid is hospitalized after allegedly suffering extensive abuse at the hands of her employers.

Police officers speak to a group of girls after they were rescued from a human trafficking ring, Oct. 11, 2011.
  A Cambodian maid is recuperating at a hospital in Malaysia after being severely beaten by her employers, highlighting the plight of women from some of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia who seek work abroad, only to find themselves held captive and abused with little recourse.

Chea Phalla, 28, is being treated in a hospital in the capital Kuala Lumpur after having her jaw broken and being tortured by the couple that hired her to clean their home, according to an official with the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia who met with the victim.

Third secretary at the Cambodian Embassy Chhay Kosal told RFA that Chea Phalla’s employer, hairdresser Tan Mong Huwai, had tried to send her back to Cambodia so that he and his wife, Eng Lay San, could get away with their crime.

 “When she arrived at the embassy, her condition was already critical. At first she could barely speak. Her boss slapped her in the face until her jaw was broken,” Chhay Kosal said.

 “They wanted to finish by sending her back to Cambodia, but the company that recruited her [Cambodia Labor Supply] knew about the torture and stopped them,” he said, adding that the company was assisting the embassy in bringing the case to court.

 “We will not accept this. We will file a lawsuit against her boss.”

Chhay Kosal said that Chea Phalla is recuperating after having rested in the hospital.

The couple that employed Chea Phalla, both 36 years old, has been charged with “causing grievous hurt” to the housemaid between August last year and May.

They allegedly beat Chea Phalla with an empty bottle, a pair of shoes, a weighing scale, an iron, an aluminum rod, a kitchen knife, a plastic chair, and a pail at various times during her employment, Malaysia’s The Star newspaper reported.

In addition to refusing her food and making her work long shifts without rest, the maid claimed that her employers forced her to eat and drink her own feces and urine.

The charge of “causing grievous hurt,” under Section 326 of Malaysia’s Penal Code, provides a maximum jail sentence of up to 20 years and a fine or whipping upon conviction.

History of abuse

Malaysia employs about two million foreign workers, mostly from less developed regional countries in jobs that local workers prefer not to take, including on construction sites and in plantations. Another two million are thought to work illegally in the country.

Thida Khus, executive director of Cambodian women’s rights group Silaka, said there are no accurate statistics of how many Cambodian women are currently working Malaysia.

“The companies often dispatch maids to work without monitoring their conditions,” he said.

“We don’t know how many women are working in Malaysia because they don’t maintain contact with embassy officials.” Some estimates put the number of Cambodian women employed in Malaysian households at around 50,000.

A string of similar cases of abuse has led to strained ties between Malaysia and some of its Southeast Asian neighbors in recent years.

Cambodia imposed a freeze on sending domestic workers in October last year after activists exposed dozens of cases of sexual abuse, overwork, and exploitation among Cambodian maids in Malaysian homes.

Indonesia, which is the largest provider of domestic workers to Malaysia, had a similar ban in place since 2009, but lifted it recently after Malaysia pledged better protections for maids, including granting them one day off a week.

In May, the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia assisted 10 Cambodians who had been ill-treated by their employers.

And in March, a Malaysian couple was charged with killing domestic worker Mey Sichan, 24, who was allegedly subjected to repeated physical abuse and starved.

Reported by Mao Sotheany for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. Read more!