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Friday, April 06, 2012

Stronger Public Administration Needed: Analyst

Lao Monghay says Cambodian society is changing, and the administrative system must change with it.

Cambodia’s public administration needs to be strengthened or it risks increased instability, a political analyst says.

Speaking as a monthly guest on “Hello VOA,” the analyst, Lao Monghay, compared public administration to the “arms, legs and body” of a government.

The body must be strong to “respond to social change,” he said. And if it can’t, the challenges will be “insurmountable.” “That can lead to social instability,” he said.

Cambodian society is changing, and the administrative system must change with it, he said. Laws must be enforced, power decentralized at both the local and national levels, corruption dealt with and the abuse of power curtailed, he said.

The main goal is people’s wellbeing, he said, and to create a social atmosphere where people live “together as a nation.”

Speaking to international groups and the media in Washington this week, the UN’s special envoy for Cambodian human rights, Surya Subedi, said the rights environment has improved, but there is still “not enough political will, not enough determination.”

Donors and the rest of the international community must push the government towards “serious” reform in the judiciary, parliament and other agencies responsible for human rights, Subedi said.

Specific improvements are needed in the areas of land grabbing, a law to regulate NGOs, and the judiciary, among others, he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said officials are working to reform the country, which is still plagued by the legacy of the Khmer Rouge and civil war.
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Kunming-Cambodia direct flights to be launched later 2012

PHNOM PENH, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Direct flights between China's Kunming city and Cambodia's Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are expected to be launched later this year in order to further promote trade and tourism between the two countries, said a Cambodian government official on Friday.

The plan was announced on Friday during a meeting between visiting Li Jiheng, Governor of China's Yunnan province, and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Minister of the Council of Ministers (COM), according to Ek Tha, spokesman and deputy director of press unit at the COM.

"In the meeting, His Excellency Li Jiheng sought Cambodia's permission for the upcoming direct commercial flights from Kunming to Cambodia," he said. "It is expected the flights will be launched later this year."

According to Ek Tha, Li told Sok An that a newly built international airport in Kunming city worth more than 2 billion U. S. dollars will be inaugurated on June 28 this year and he had invited Sok An to join the inauguration.

Sok An welcomed the plan for the direct flights, saying that the flights from Yunnan will bring more tourists to Cambodia.

According to the statistics of Cambodia's tourism ministry, Cambodia attracted 247,200 Chinese tourists last year, an increase of 39 percent, making Chinese tourists the third largest arrival group to this Southeastern Asian nation.

Meanwhile, Sok An said attending the airport inauguration would give Cambodia's civil aviation officials a chance to learn a great deal about new developments in civil aviation industry.

Li led a large group of business executives from Yunnan province to visit Cambodia from April 4-6.
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Dentists give hope to Cambodians

By Dan Marcinkowski, Edmonton Journal

In less than two weeks, more than 1,000 patients were treated in Cambodia by members of the Alberta-based volunteer group Kindness in Action.

"We basically did a full range of dental care for patients," said Dr. Kevin Lobay, a clinical lecturer in both dentistry and the department of emergency medicine at the University of Alberta. "We made sure that patients were fully treated, not just doing one part and moving on to the next patient."

Lobay, along with 15 other Canadians, made the overseas trip in mid-February. Once in Cambodia, local volunteers, mostly translators, joined the cause and the team grew to more than 25 members made up of dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, physicians and pharmacists.

Lobay,who is trained as both a dentist and emergency medicine physician, helped many children. Many of the kids had major tooth decay, some so bad that all of their teeth had to be removed, while others simply needed numerous fillings. "Many of these patients have never seen a dentist," Lobay said. "Every patient is unique and obviously important. We worked on some very poor people in Cambodia that have no other resources or opportunities to have their medical or dental problems addressed."

One memorable moment was of a patient who had severely decayed teeth and needed her wisdom teeth out. There is a myth in Cambodia that the removal of wisdom teeth will cause blindness. The patient asked Lobay if she was going to go blind and Lobay promised the patient that she would be OK.

After her teeth were pulled, he asked if she could still see. She said yes, laughing.

The satisfaction of helping people is what Lobay will remember most about his journey to Cambodia. "You take away a life experience that you can't get any other way."

The crew had to bring their own equipment, including generators, because power is unreliable there.

This was the fifth time in the past seven years that Lobay travelled overseas to help those in need. He has volunteered in the Philippines, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Peru through Kindness in Action. "Not sure where we are going next. We will have a meeting to discuss where to go next year," he said.

The dental charity provides free dental care in areas around the world for those who have limited or no access to dental care. Kindness in Action also helps to fill needs beyond dentistry including work on building schools and setting up clinics.
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Federal agents might seize Khmer statue

American museums, including the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, are home to thousands of Khmer objects with murky ownership histories.
Cambodian art
Federal agents have threatened to seize from Sotheby's a 10th-century Cambodian sandstone statue. (Homeland Security / April 5, 2012)

NEW YORK — Federal agents have threatened to seize from Sotheby's a 10th century Cambodian sandstone statue, alleging the auction house planned to sell it despite warnings that looters had stolen the piece from its rightful place, adorning an ancient temple in the former Khmer kingdom.

Court documents filed Wednesday in New York say the statue of an ancient warrior was torn from the Prasat Chen Temple in Koh Ker in northern Cambodia sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s, when the Asian nation was engulfed in civil unrest. The statue fell into the hands of a private collector in Belgium, whose heirs reached an agreement with Sotheby's to sell it on consignment last March.

Cambodia is the latest country seeking to reclaim ancient art looted from its soil and sold on the black market before surfacing in the United States. American museums, including the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, are home to thousands of Khmer objects with murky ownership histories that could be subject to similar suits if Cambodia seeks to pursue them.

Shortly before the Sotheby's sale, Cambodian officials notified the auction house that the object had been looted, and the parties have been negotiating a settlement to the dispute for the last year.

Those negotiations ended abruptly Wednesday when the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a civil forfeiture suit, claiming the statue was stolen property under U.S. law.

"The ... statue is imbued with great meaning for the people of Cambodia and, as we allege, it was looted from the country during a period of upheaval and unrest, and found its way to the United States," Manhattan U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara said in a statement released by his office. "With today's action, we are taking an important step toward reuniting this ancient artifact with its rightful owners."

Sotheby's disputed the allegations, saying in a statement that the statue "was legally imported into the United States and all relevant facts were openly declared."

In recent years, mounting evidence has emerged that American collectors and museum officials knowingly bought looted antiquities, ignoring national ownership laws of source countries and U.S. laws that treat such objects as stolen property.

Sotheby's appears to have ignored similar warning signs, according to internal auction house emails cited in the court records.

"The Cambodians in Pnom Penh now have clear evidence that it was definitely stolen from Prasat Chen at Koh Ker, as the feet are still in situ," warned an American scholar who was studying the object for the auction house. "It is also possible that the Cambodians might block the sale and ask for the piece back. ... I don't think Sotheby wants this kind of potential problem."

The scholar later consulted with "culture spies and [a] museum director" in Cambodia and told Sotheby's it was unlikely that the government would pursue a claim. Sotheby's proceeded with the sale, with officials saying in internal emails that while it might receive bad press from "academics and 'temple huggers,'" the potential profits from the sale made it "worth the risk."

The New York Times identified the scholar as Emma C. Bunker, an authority on Khmer art who has publicly defended the right of American collectors to buy objects with unclear origins.

There are frequent references in the federal complaint to another statue looted from the same site. Experts say it is a reference to a sandstone statue of a temple wrestler at the Norton Simon Museum, which the museum purchased in 1976 from a New York dealer and describes as coming from Koh Ker.

In a statement, the museum said it had not been contacted by Cambodia, whose officials have long known about the statue's existence. "In more than three decades of ownership, the foundation's ownership of the sculpture has never been questioned," said a spokeswoman.

That may soon change, experts say.

"Over the last decade, the climate has become much more favorable for Cambodia and other source countries seeking to repatriate looted antiquities," said Tess David, an American attorney specializing in cultural patrimony law who is advising the government of Cambodia.

In a study of Sotheby's sales published last year, Davis found that 71% of Khmer objects sold had no documented ownership history, suggesting they may have been products of the illicit trade.
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