Monday, 28 January 2008

Dispute roils Temple vote

Members of Wat Vipassanaram wait to vote for a new board of directors during an election held at the Long Beach Buddhist temple Sunday. The action, which may not result in the seating of a new board, is in response to a debate between a group of temple members and leadership over what dissidents say is mistreatment of monks. (Stephen Carr/Staff Photographer )

RELIGION: Following complaints by monks, members of the Cambodian community vote in a new board.

By Greg Mellen
Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - About 400-500 members of the local Cambodian community braved the wind and rain Sunday to participate in an election that may not even count.

Templegoers at Wat Vipassanaram in Central Long Beach, showed up en masse after a group opposed to the existing nine-member board of directors of the Khmer Buddhist Association announced it would stage the election for new leadership at the temple.

The association's bylaws call for elections on the fourth Sunday of January annually. But members of the existing board, noting that no elections had been staged in more than a decade, asked for the election to be postponed until March to allow the bylaws to be updated and to provide a fair and legitimate election.

The existing board members, who were not listed as candidates in Sunday's elections, said they would not recognize the results of Sunday's vote.

Initially, the board of directors had hoped to clear the grounds of the wat at 1239 E. 20th St. 30 minutes before the scheduled 1 p.m. election.

But with more than 100 congregants already in the temple and an adjoining patio area, officials worried forcing people off the property would cause strife.

"Hopefully everything will go smoothly, I pray for that," said Siphann Tith, the executive president of the board.

Although Long Beach police were on hand, they said the dispute was a civil matter and maintained a hands-off approach.

Opponents of the existing board said they pushed for the election due to charges of mistreatment of the monks at the wat. Through a translator, the monks said they had been threatened with expulsion, mail had been illegally opened, that they are denied access to electronic devices and that the board limits their ability to leave the premises.

Board members say the charges are false, and that their opponents are trying to wrest control over the wat, which has net assets of more than $1.5 million and clout in the Cambodian community.

Eventually, with attorneys Evan Braude, representing the board, and Bill Shibley, for the dissidents, on hand, it was decided to let the templegoers decide whether they wanted to proceed with the vote.

The roar of approval when the question was put to membership was nearly unanimous.

Speaking in Khmer to the temple crowd, Sithan "Larry" Sar, a candidate for the new board, said "this is the will of the monks and the people, that's why it has to happen today." An interpreter translated his remarks to the Press-Telegram.

Paline Soth, another opponent of the existing board, said the vote had to go forward.

"We interpret the monks as the ultimate authority and we have their blessing," Soth said.

Tith said the monks did not have the authority to call for a vote, but he did not attempt to stop the vote.

Braude tried to convince the crowd to be patient and allow the two sides to convene and come up with a mutually agreeable election procedure.

"I think the board understands how you feel," Braude told the crowd. "But today would be premature to have an election that would be fair, legitimate or even (lawful)."

Shibley urged only that the community be collaborative rather than divisive in its search for answers.

"It's important to solve problems as friends," Shibley said.

A total of 294 votes were cast for 13 candidates for the nine board positions.

Chha Kry Un was the leading vote getter with 266. Him Kea, one of two women elected, was second, followed by Darin Sun, Sar, Sophan Oum, Praseur Ban, Kosal Chum, Serey Keo and Alex Lim.

Opponents of the board of directors took to the streets to sign up temple members in large numbers, picking up 525 members. The board of directors estimated the wat only had about 300 regulars.

Shibley said he hopes representatives from the new and existing boards can meet in the next couple of weeks and hash out an agreement.

Top Cambodian foreign minister pays tribute to Suharto

Asia-Pacific News
Jan 28, 2008

Phnom Penh - Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong made an official visit to the Indonesian embassy in the capital Monday to lay a wreath and sign a condolence book in honour of former Indonesian president Suharto.

Hor Namhong did not speak to reporters but spent several minutes with Indonesian embassy staff. The elderly Cambodian statesman appeared visibly moved.

Suharto, a former five-star general, died of multiple organ failure Sunday at Jakarta's Pertamina Hospital, where he had been treated for 23 days. He was 86.

Cambodia is a fellow member of the 10-nation Association of South-east Asian Nations bloc and enjoys warm diplomatic ties with Indonesia.

Suharto was Indonesia's Pol Pot: Sukarno widow

Ratna Sari Dewi Sukarno (Photo: Japan Today)

January 28, 2008
Source: ABC

The Japanese widow of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno says she will never forgive his successor Suharto for his repression, and has likened him to Pol Pot.

Suharto seized power from Sukarno in 1965-66 and ruled with an iron fist for another three decades.

"I don't want to lash out at a dead man but I cannot forgive Suharto," Ratna Sari Dewi Sukarno, Sukarno's third wife said.

"He was Indonesia's Pol Pot," she said, referring to the late leader of Cambodia's genocidal Khmer Rouge.

Dewi, a former bar hostess born as Naoko Nemoto, married Sukarno at age 19 in 1962 after he was charmed by her on a state visit to Tokyo.

After Sukarno died under house arrest in 1970, she returned to Japan where she has become a television personality and runs a jewellery and cosmetics business.

Despite Indonesia's economic progress under Suharto, his tenure was marked by repression, from the killings of at least 500,000 communists and their sympathisers from 1966, to invading East Timor and quelling separatist movements in Aceh and Papua.

Dewi blamed Suharto both for the death of her husband, "the man who declared independence and became Indonesia's first president," and for the mass killings around the country.

"Although he had a soft face, he could be cruel and heartless at the same time," she said.

"You could not tell what he was like on the inside.

"What he said and what he did were two different things."

She scolded Suharto for not making court appearances late in his life to answer corruption charges, citing illness.

"Even today, many Indonesians suffer from that legacy and the income gap continues to widen," Dewi said.

"He ended his life living among friends," she said.

"I think he was a very lucky man."

Suharto was buried today in a state funeral in central Java after a long illness.


Women in Cambodia Lead the Way for Change

Photo by (Laura McKay/CARE 2007)

Clearing for the future

Cambodia's Pailin province is one of the most land mine and unexploded ordinance affected areas in the country. Poverty rates are high with many people trying to make a living on land filled with mines.

Han, a mother of four, has worked with CARE's Australia-Cambodia Integrated Mine Action program for over a year. She de-mines with a team of other women who work with metal detectors and safety equipment to remove and detonate the mines.

"I have two reasons for working in the de-mining program. The first is that I am poor and I have to take care of my children. The other is that it gives me the chance to participate in clearing the mines.

"Before I became a Locality De-miner, I just focused on farming. It was very difficult – I couldn"t grow enough food, especially in times of drought or flood and my standard of living was very bad. Now things are better.

"Even though I am a woman and doing the job of a de-miner I am trying to keep strong and be careful all the time. I spend from six in the morning until three in the afternoon de-mining then I go home and take care of my children. Sometimes my neighbours take care of them too. One of my children cooks now. She is a great help."

Communities for communities

CARE's Highland Community Education Program works with people from ethnic minority groups in the remote province of Ratanakiri to establish community schools, conduct teacher training, create bilingual resources, and support community-run school boards.

Varina, a 29-year-old teacher trainer from the Krung ethnic group, tells her story:

"I was born in a difficult time – the time of Pol Pot. I nearly died because there was nothing to drink and not enough food. My mother tried hard to find me things to eat but I became very thin. Then she passed away.

"I have had a dream since I was ten years old that I would be a good mother and a good leader. Because I have had this commitment since I was ten, I feel that I have already reached my dream.

"I wanted to help the indigenous people here to have a school and to have education. I also wanted to strengthen myself and to build my capacity to help all of them. So when I saw CARE help the indigenous people with education I was very happy. When CARE helps indigenous people, they also help me. I try to learn more so I can help people, too."

Making the children smile

CARE works with local partners in Cambodia on projects like Orphans and Vulnerable Children so that children are able to get access to nutritious food and hygiene kits.

Dina is 21 years old and works with New Hope for Cambodia Children, one of CARE's partners. This is her story.

"I used to go to the riverside where I saw how difficult it was for children living there – so I decided to work with them. I like to see the children smiling.

"Most of the children like joking so when I visit them they always tell me a joke. One of the girls is very clever. She is the little one in the house but she knows everything. She is four years old – a lovely girl. Now she has gone to study at the kindergarten and, through the project, I have given her study equipment and a hygiene kit to help her.

"We tell the parents that nutritious food is very important for the children because even if they get their medicine, if their diet is poor, they cannot get better. I work with 27 families and go to each house every week. It's good to develop a relationship with the families; then they know they can trust us."

Small health, long lives

Le is 29 years old. In her work as a peer educator, she promotes family planning and information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to friends through Small Health Promotions, part of CARE's Strengthening Capacity for Improved Community Health program. CARE runs the promotions though a partner organization at garment factories in Phnom Penh, providing training, peer educator support, condoms and clinic services to thousands of girls.

"In my village, many girls go to Phnom Penh to find work. I've worked in the garment factory for two years. My family doesn't have much education and are very poor. So, of the US$50 that I earn each month, I send US$20-$25 back to them.

"At the garment factory we get a lot of benefit from the Small Health Promotions. They're good for sharing ideas and getting access to the clinic. I help to prepare the health promotions and encourage friends to come, too.

"Because of my training, I have talked to my boyfriend about STIs and the benefits of condom use and, if my friends have husbands, I can explain to them about family planning."

BORDER DISPUTE: Govt quick to withdraw allegation

Defence spokesman's claim that Cambodia marked boundary unilaterally denied

January 26, 2008

The Defence Ministry yesterday rushed to retract statements made by a spokesman that Cambodia had "made up" history in a bid to claim the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear for Phnom Penh's unilateral benefit.

Top brass were urgently calling counterparts across the border yesterday to clarify statements made on Thursday by ministry spokesman Lt-General Pichsanu Puchakarn.

Preah Vihear is a sensitive issue between Thailand and Cambodia. It heated up early last year, when Thailand blocked Phnom Penh's attempt to list it as a United Nations World Heritage site. Bangkok asserted Cambodian listing documentation claimed land in "overlapping areas".

The International Court of Justice ruled in June 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but access to the site is mainly via Thailand. Phnom Penh has recognised some overlapping areas, according an official at the Thai Foreign Ministry.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) agreed at a meeting in New Zealand in June last year to consider the heritage listing. It suggested Thailand and Cambodia jointly develop the site and agree on boundaries before a decision.

Both countries concurred.

The matter was at the heart of discussions between Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram and his counterpart Hor Namhong in Phnom Penh in December.

Cambodia praised Thailand for its offer of technical assistance in the restoration and maintenance of the ancient site.

The military statement on Thursday was a surprise. Pichsanu said Cambodia had created a new boundary in order to claim sovereignty of the entire area and was campaigning for international support for this.

He condemned Cambodia and demanded diplomats lodge an official protest with Phnom Penh.
Yesterday the ministry changed its tune. Supreme Command civil-affairs chief Lt-General Plangkul Klahan and Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said the previous day's statement was incorrect.

Anti-Thai sentiment is quick to emerge in Cambodia. Rioters set fire to the embassy in Phnom Penh in January 2003.

Tharit said yesterday Thailand and Cambodia had agreed in 2000 to a joint boundary committee. No changes in the environment of the area will be made before boundary demarcation. "Both countries continue dialogue to find the best solution to listing the area as a World Heritage site," he said.

Thailand's National World Heritage Committee chairman, Adul Vichianchareon, said that if they failed to settle boundary disputes, Unesco might reject the listing proposal.

The Nation

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Rejects Delay To Hearing:Official

PHNOM PENH (AFP)--Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal will hear an appeal against regime leader Nuon Chea's detention on Feb. 4, officials said Monday, rejecting efforts to delay the court's second public hearing.

Legal maneuvering by Nuon Chea's defense lawyers had threatened to delay the proceedings, court officials said.

But the court said the hearing would take place as scheduled, rejecting requests by Nuon Chea's team to strike some of his testimony from the record.

Lawyers for the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge cadre had argued that tribunal judges should not have conducted their client's initial interviews in the absence of defense counsel following his arrest in September.

"Mr. Nuon's apparent waiver of his right to counsel was involuntary, uninformed, ambiguous and therefore ineffective," they said in their request to annul the written record of Nuon Chea's first three court appearances.

But judges, in an order issued Friday, said the 81-year-old had repeatedly denied that he needed a lawyer present for the interviews.

"It appears difficult to imagine a situation where the waiver could have been more clear and more deliberate than in this case," the judges wrote in their decision to reject the request.

Nuon Chea, who was Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's closest deputy, is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was the alleged architect of the communist regime's sweeping execution policies during its 1975-1979 rule.

Five top cadres have been arrested so far, with the first trials expected to begin in mid-2008.
Up to two million people died of starvation, disease and overwork, or were executed under the Khmer Rouge, which emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.

Schools, religion and currency were outlawed and the educated classes targeted for extermination by the communists.
"Everything is clear now. The co-investigating judges wanted to show that they have done everything fairly for Nuon Chea," tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath told AFP Monday, saying the hearing would be held.

Australian Women Talk khmer

TM plans to invest in Cambodia, eyes other assets too

Monday January 28, 2008

SINGAPORE: Telekom Malaysia arm, TM International, is eyeing mobile assets in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and will invest US$100mil in Cambodia in the next two years to build its networks, the unit's chief said on Saturday.

Chief executive Yusof Annuar Yaacob also expected TM International's revenues to grow up to 20% in the next three years.

“We're investing about US$100mil in Cambodia over the next 18 to 24 months, and we're looking at a transaction in Laos at the same time – we're talking to the government about taking over one of their mobile operations,” Yusof told Reuters in an interview.

“As for Myanmar, which is the El Dorado of Asian telecoms, we're quite keen to do something there too – we've been engaging with the government there,” he added.

The company was also keen on Vietnam and would wait for an opportunity to open up, he said.
“We've been engaged with the respective telecoms companies for a couple of years now,” he said.

“It's also a partnership issue. Despite the war, they like American companies, but for an American company to come through the door, it might not be politically acceptable, so it might be an idea for us to partner one of these guys to increase our chances of taking a stake,” Yusof said, adding that possible partners included AT&T Inc and Vodafone Group plc.

Relations between Vietnam and the United States have warmed recently, culminating in the first visit to Washington last June by a Vietnamese head of state since the 10-year Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Last September, TM said it would spin off its mobile business into a separately listed firm, TM International, to help unlock the value of its fastest growing operations, separating it from its more staid fixed-line and broadband units.

TM International will house its domestic Celcom mobile unit and operations in nine other countries, including India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Earnings growth at TM, Malaysia's fifth largest company by market value, has mainly been driven by revenue from Celcom and its 67% owned Indonesian mobile unit, Excelcomindo Pratama Tbk.

Looking ahead, Yusof said he expected TM International's revenues to increase more than 20%, but this figure would fall when combined with Celcom's slower growth rates.

Celcom accounts for about half the group's revenues.

“The numbers are between mid to high teens (in percentage terms) for the blended organisation, over the next three years,” he added.

The listing of TM International would be finalised in early or middle of the second quarter, ahead of the earlier target of end-June, Yusof added. – Reuters

Khmer Mchas Srok Branch is formed in Minnesota, US
Khmer Quorum
Saturday, January 26, 2008

A fear of Vietnamization in Cambodia and Khmer Race extinction is haunting all Cambodian communities around the world as well as in the country. In response to this fear, On January 26, 2008, about fifty Cambodian Americans in Minnesota have come together to form a Khmer Mchas Srok Branch in the state. At the meeting, the members have voted to choose a president, a vice president, three secretaries, a treasurer, and a numbers of advisors.

An important mission of this organization is to restore full independence and national sovereignty from Vietnamese expansionism policy and to brink back true democracy, self-determination, and the rule of law for our country. The president of this newly established organization has given a short speech to the members, focusing on an unfair border treaty with Vietnam, an alarming number of illegal Vietnamese Immigrants who continuously flowing into the country without check, and the growing influence of Vietnamese associations and businesses in the country.

The organization believes that at least there are 2 to 4 millions illegal Vietnamese Immigrants are currently living in Cambodia under the protection of the current regime. If the current government continues to rule the country for the next 30 to 50 years, Cambodia will automatically become Champa and Kampuchea Krom. The past and current situations have convinced the Khmer Mchas Srok that Vietnam is constantly and systematically swallowing Cambodian land through all kinds of mean.

To save Cambodia from the real danger of extinction, the Khmer Mchas Srok will appeal to all the signatory countries of the Geneva Peace Accord in 1954 and the Paris Peace Accord in 1991 to review and reinstate all clauses that had guaranteed the full sovereignty and independence of Cambodia. On the other hand, the Khmer Mchas Srok clearly states that it has no policy and intention to compete or challenge with any political party in Cambodia, but its sacred mission is to salvage our nation from the Vietnamese expansionism.

At the end of the emotional but enthusiastic meeting, the Khmer Mchas Srok Branch in Minnesota has called for all Cambodian communities around the world to rally and unify as a single force under an umbrella of the Khmer Mchas Srok in order to save our beloved country from Vietnamization.

Where Cambodia Stands on International Arena?
Sunday, January 27, 2008
By Khmer Quorum

International Relations strongly depends on power of individualnation that participate in the world arena. Without sufficient power,a nation cannot survive in the world of constant struggle. Power canhelp to persuade aggressors to stay away from each other. Powerincludes military, economic, political, and psychological factors thateach country can use to balance each other. In this sense, countriesgenerally pursue their own national interest; there is no any countrycan afford to behave as if a Bodhisattva (Buddhist Saint) in this real world.

Many countries use diplomacy to search and develop a commoninterest so that they can work together to achieve their common goalproductively. However, sometime the common interest doesn't last longenough to keep them together, a marriage of convenience is over.During the Cold War, China and the US became the biggest supporters ofthe Cambodian Coalition Government Forces which fought to liberatethe country from Vietnamese occupation backed by the Soviet Union.When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, China and the US ceasedsupporting the Cambodian fighters because they had no longer fearedthe Soviet's threat in Southeast Asia.Then, China and the US's common interest to help the Cambodian resistant forces also no longer existed.

Now the US starts to see China as a great threat to its interest in Southeast Asia, and it looks forward to its former enemy, Vietnam as its potential futureally to contain the Chinese growing power in the region. BothPresidents Clinton and Bush had visited Vietnam in order to cement theirrelationship with their new friend. Recently, Vietnam openly spokeagainst China's aggression over the Spradly Island where Vietnamregards as its own sovereign island for centuries. However, Vietnamtries to avoid any action that leads to opened conflict with Chinabecause Vietnam still remembers its nightmare on a border war with Chinain 1979 while the Soviet was reluctant to intervene on its side.

Meanwhile, China now sees Cambodia as a springboard to convey its power and influence into the region. In 2005, during an official visit to Cambodia, Chinese Premier Wei Jia Bao had pledged $600 million economic aid to Cambodia without any condition. China becomes the second largest investor in the country only behind SouthKorea. Both governments frequently have exchanged their high levelofficial visits. There is no doubt that China wants Cambodia to stayin its economic and political influence by using generous aid to buythe heart and mind of the Hun Sen's regime. Now, Cambodia has falleninto the sphere of an old Cold War again. Vietnam and China havestrongly supported Hun Sen's undemocratic government while the West isstruggling to restore democracy into Cambodia.

Without Vietnam and China's interferences, the seed ofdemocracy that planted by the UN and International Community in 1993would grow speedily and fruitfully in the country. In term ofInternational Relations, Cambodia lacks of military capability,economic strength, and even psychological determination that could beused as a leverage to balance itself with its neighbors and otherworld powers. Cambodia is rated by the World Bank as among the poorestand weakest nation in the world, and it has continuously struggled tosurvive itself from its more powerful neighbors, especially Vietnam.

After four years the Cambodian judiciary still denies justice to Chea Vichea, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeum

Offerings made in honor of Chea Vichea memory on the fourth anniversary of his assassination

Both courts ignored key evidence, including witness testimony that Born Samnang was 60km away from the crime scene at the time of the murder.

Today, the 28th of January, 2008, marks the fourth year of imprisonment of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeum who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the murder of Chea Vichea, President of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC). As of today the two men have served a total of 1,461 days in prison.

The prosecution of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, has attracted widespread criticism for serious irregularities and the lack of evidence against them. Their trial by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in August 2005, and an Appeal Court hearing which upheld the guilty verdict in April 2007, violated Cambodian legal procedure and international human rights standards. Both courts ignored key evidence, including witness testimony that Born Samnang was 60km away from the crime scene at the time of the murder. The Appeal Court disregarded a written statement by Va Sothy, the prime witness to the murder, that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were not the killers whom she saw.

The Appeal Court also ignored the conclusions of its own prosecutor, who acknowledged that the police investigation into the murder was incomplete and recommended that more investigation be conducted.

Local and international human rights groups and individuals including retired King Norodom Sihanouk have repeatedly stated that the two men are not the real killers of Chea Vichea. The family of Chea Vichea has also publicly denounced the trial and conviction of the two men and have refused to accept the USD$5,000 compensation that the court ordered the two men to pay.

The human rights community both in Cambodia and internationally continues to insist on the immediate release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.

Early last week union members, NGO workers, representatives from the Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party, and others gathered to mark the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Chea Vichea. A small police contingent escorted 150 supporters as they marched from the FTUWKC headquarters to the newspaper stand near Wat Lanka where Chea Vichea was shot on 22 January, 2004.

At the newspaper stand a ceremony was held to pay tribute to the union leader. Wreaths were laid and incense lit in prayer, honoring Chea Vichea who gave his life for the struggle to represent the needs of Cambodian workers.

RIGHTS-CAMBODIA: Land Grabbing - A Serious Concern

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Jan 28 (IPS) - At the beginning of January, Ros Sovann was just another private security guard one sees standing outside fancy restaurants and the homes of the rich in Phnom Penh. By month end, the 28-year-old had catapulted from obscurity to become the symbol of rage spreading through Cambodia over land grabbing.

Ros’ transformation took place shortly before midnight on Jan. 13 in front of a house in the Cambodian capital, owned by Chin Kim Sreng, a 70-year-old parliamentarian from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Sometime close to 11:30 p.m., Ros brutally attacked Chin with a steel pipe as the latter had got out of his luxury car to open the gate of his house, say reports in the local press.

But Ros was not finished, despite his beatings leaving Chin bleeding and with open head wounds, added an account in the Khmer language ‘Rasmei Kampuchea’ newspaper. He had then got into Chin’s car and crashed it into the gate.

Ros’ arrest by the police and subsequent confession revealed that there was more to the attack than the visible facts. He said in his statement that he was exacting revenge on the country’s powerful government officials responsible for grabbing the land that his family owned in a village on the outskirts of Phnom. The lost land was to have helped his family raise funds to pay for his wedding.

‘’(Ros) said he had had no personal grudges against Chin,’’ states the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a Hong Kong-based regional rights lobby. ‘’However, since the loss of his land he had harboured strong resentment for all powerful officials, so much so that, on becoming a security guard, he had requested his firm to assign him to guard their houses so that he could have opportunities to take revenge on them.’’

The attack -- while not being condoned -- has attracted the attention of international and local rights groups who have been raising a cry against the strong-arm tactics used by Cambodian authorities to evict hundreds of the country’s urban and rural poor from their homes and their lands. ‘’Ros’ attack on lawmaker Chin Kim Sreng, brutal as it was, should not be treated as a crime like many others,’’ noted the AHRC. ‘’It should be taken very seriously as it was a cry for justice for himself and for other victims of the injustices of land grabbing.’’

In fact others reveal that such an act of violence by the victims of evictions against government officials is new. ‘’It is the first case that I have heard of, although our organisation does not condone such violence,’’ says Dan Nicholson, coordinator for the Asia and Pacific Programme at the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), a Geneva-based housing and land rights lobby. ‘’The victims have often pursued peaceful means to advocate for their rights.’’

Such non-violent activity, either through community-organised protests or turning to the courts, comes despite growing frustration about the heavy odds the evicted men, women and children are up against. ‘’The people feel very frustrated at the difficulty they are having to defend their rights,’’ Nicholson revealed during a telephone interview from Phnom Penh. ‘’The courts have not been very helpful, and there are cases of intimidation and threats used against the community leaders who challenge the authorities after the eviction.’’

Last November even saw two deaths, many injuries and hundreds evicted from their homes in a typical campaign the Cambodian authorities launched to secure land from the poor. As always, armed police, soldiers and the military police were used in such eviction operations. The security forces shot dead two people on Nov. 15 during ‘’a forced eviction in the remote northern Preah Vihear province,’’ said Amnesty International, the London-based global rights campaigner. ‘’The victims, one man and one woman, belonged to a group of 317 families -- over 1,500 people -- evicted by more than 200 armed (members of the security force).’’

The push by Cambodian authorities to drive the poor from their lands in Phnom Penh, beachside tourist resorts like Sihanoukville and central provincial areas like Kompong have grown with intensity since 2006. That year saw over 7,000 people thrown out of their homes in Phnom Penh to enable private sector investments build new apartments, business centres and shopping malls on the lands.

According to local rights group, the heavy-handed measures used by authorities to grab real estate from the vulnerable exposes the downside of Cambodia’s march to shed its image as a poverty-stricken country. This South-east Asian nation, which has enjoyed over a decade of relative peace after nearly two decades of a brutal conflict, posted economic growth averaging 11 percent annually over the past three years. Tourism and garments are the country’s money-spinners.

Most troubling for groups like the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) is the Cambodian government’s attitude towards the 2001 Land Law, which offered a new framework regards land ownership in a country where there was no strong culture of land rights and private land ownership. What was more, the little records of title deeds the country had were destroyed when Cambodia was ruled in the late 1970s by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot.

‘’The 2001 Land Law is progressive. It recognises the right of people who have lived on a piece of land for over five years to be entitled to the land’s title,’’ Yeng Virak, executive director of CLEC, said in a telephone interview from his organisation’s office in Phnom Penh. ‘’There has been a systematic effort to register land over the past six years.’’

But the poor who have been targeted for evictions are among the millions who have not received the ‘’paper work’’ to lay claim to the land they are living on. Consequently, they have become victims of the manner in which the Cambodian government is interpreting the two types of state land in the country -- for public use that needs protection, such as forests, and for private use, which can be sold for development.

‘’The government is saying that the people being evicted do not have the legal claims on the land and that such property is state land meant for private use, for economic activity,’’ says Yeng. ‘’And only some of the families who have been evicted have received compensation. Others have been dumped in an area where there are no facilities.’’

It is a development model that wins little support from Yeng, whose organisation is providing legal assistance to some of the evicted communities. ‘’Economic development is good, but the problem is when it is done at all costs,’’ he explains. ‘’The land issue is becoming a very serious concern here.’’

U.S. Spy Satellite, Power Gone, May Hit Earth

January 27, 2008

WASHINGTON — A disabled American spy satellite is rapidly descending and is likely to plunge to Earth by late February or early March, posing a potential danger from its debris, officials said Saturday.

Officials said that they had no control over the nonfunctioning satellite and that it was unknown where the debris might land.

“Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation,” Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.

“Numerous satellites over the years have come out of orbit and fallen harmlessly. We are looking at potential options to mitigate any possible damage this satellite may cause.”

Specialists who follow spy satellite operations suspect it is an experimental imagery satellite built by Lockheed Martin and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in December 2006 aboard a Delta II rocket. Shortly after the satellite reached orbit, ground controllers lost the ability to control it and were never able to regain communication.

“It’s not necessarily dead, but deaf,” said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an analyst of various government space programs.

It is fairly common for satellites to drop out of orbit and enter Earth’s atmosphere, but most break up before they reach the surface, Mr. McDowell said. Such incidents occur every few months, and it is often difficult to control the satellite’s trajectory or its re-entry into the atmosphere.

The debris, if any survives the fiery descent, typically lands in remote areas and causes little or no harm.

“For the most part,” Mr. McDowell said, “re-entering space hardware isn’t a threat because so much of the Earth is empty. But one could say we’ve been lucky so far.”

Of particular concern in this case, however, is that the debris from the satellite may include hydrazine fuel, which is typically used for rocket maneuvers in space.

Much of the fuel on the experimental satellite may not have been used and, should the tank survive re-entry into the atmosphere, the remaining fuel would be hazardous to anyone on the ground. It is likely, however, that the tank may rupture on re-entry, and that the fuel would burn off in a fiery plume that would be visible to the naked eye.

John E. Pike, the director of in Alexandria, Va., said that if the satellite in question was a spy satellite, it was unlikely to have any kind of nuclear fuel, but that it could contain toxins, including beryllium, which is often used as a rigid frame for optical components.

Since it was launched, the experimental satellite has been in a slowly decaying orbit. As of Jan. 22, it was moving in a circular orbit at about 275 kilometers above the Earth, Mr. McDowell said. In the last month, its orbit has declined by 15 to 20 kilometers.

“If you plot the curve, it’s now just a matter of weeks before it falls out of orbit,” he said.

The largest uncontrolled re-entry by a NASA spacecraft was that of Skylab, the 78-ton abandoned space station that fell from orbit in 1979.

My Khmer Compatriots, ask not what Cambodia and her People can do for you, ask what you can do for Cambodia and her People!