Friday, 2 January 2009

Tragedy in Thailand Mars New Year Celebrations in Asia

An unidentified Thai woman, left, bursts into tears as she is consoled by her friend after finding the name of her relative on the dead list at a police hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009. A fire swept through a high-class nightclub jammed with several hundred New Year's revelers early Thursday, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 200, officials said.(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

A Thai family is interviewed by a female reporter, back to camera, while waiting for the body of a son who died at a nightclub fire at a police hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009. A fire swept through a high-class nightclub jammed with several hundred New Year's revelers early Thursday, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 200, officials said.(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

A Thai fire official takes a picture of the bodies of victims outside Santika nightclub in Bangkok January 1, 2009. A blaze at the top Bangkok nightclub killed at least 58 people celebrating the New Year on Thursday and injured more than 100 others, rescue workers and witnesses said.REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa (THAILAND)

Thai policemen and rescuers stand by the bodies of victims of a fire that ripped through a nightclub in Bangkok, early on January 1. Mourners laid flowers outside Bangkok's Santika nightclub Friday as authorities raised to 59 the death toll from the blaze that ripped through the venue as revellers rang in the New Year.(AFP/Pairoj)

Thai rescuers carry bodies of victims of a fire that ripped through a nightclub in Bangkok. Mourners laid flowers outside Bangkok's Santika nightclub Friday as authorities raised to 59 the death toll from the blaze that ripped through the venue as revellers rang in the New Year.(AFP/Pairoj)

Thai forensic officers inspect at Santika nightclub where the fire broke out Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009, in Bangkok, Thailand. A fire swept through a high-class nightclub jammed with several hundred New Year's revelers early Thursday, killing at least 59 people and injuring about 130, officials said. A number of foreigners were among the casualties from the blaze that erupted shortly after midnight.(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Thai rescuers and police secure the site of a fire that ripped through a nightclub in Bangkok's Thong Lor district(AFP/Pairoj)

Thai firefighters work at the site of a fire that ripped through a nightclub in Bangkok on January 1. Mourners laid flowers outside Bangkok's Santika nightclub Friday as authorities raised to 59 the death toll from the blaze that ripped through the venue as revellers rang in the New Year.(AFP)

Cambodian monks force nation's first rock opera off air

Buddhist monks walk at Preah Vihear temple. Cambodian monks have persuaded authorities to ban the country's first rock opera, which features actors dressed as clergy who break into song and dance, saying it insults Buddhism

Jan 2, 2009

Cambodian monks have persuaded authorities to ban the country's first rock opera, which features actors dressed as clergy who break into song and dance, saying it insults Buddhism.

In a letter sent to the ministry of cults and religion, as well as to the media, the Supreme Sangha Council of Buddhist Monks also demanded an apology from the show's director, writer and actors.

"Where Elephants Weep", a modern take on a traditional Cambodian love story that merges pop and rock music with more traditional and historical Cambodian tunes, played in Phnom Penh from late November through early December.

It tells the story a Cambodian-American man who returns after the demise of the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime to reconnect with his roots. While he is a monk, he falls into a doomed love affair with a pop singer.

The last straw came when the show was aired by a local television station last week, prompting the monks' council to write to complain.

Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist and monks are expected to be austere and eschew worldly pleasures such as entertainment.

"Some scenes in the story insult Buddhism," the letter said in asking the ministry to "ban the performance and airing of the opera."

The council objected to many scenes, including one in which the actor "left the monkhood and slept with a woman, but a moment later (he) put the robe back on to be a monk again..." said the letter, dated December 30.

The show "oppresses Cambodian Buddhist monks, causes more than 50,000 monks to loss their honour, value and to express frustration," it added.

Religions minister Min Khin duly stepped in and the television station was ordered not to go ahead with a second broadcast planned for New Year's Day.

The show had a successful US preview last year and, after its run ends in Cambodia, it is expected to tour South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan before returning to the United States.

Organisers behind the opera were not immediately available for comment.

Freed pending retrial, but rights groups sceptical

Photo by: Heng chivoan
Born Samnang speaks to reporters Wednesday after being released from prison pending his retrial for the killing of union leader Chea Vichea.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Christopher Shay
Friday, 02 January 2009

Court monitors are taking a 'wait-and-see' approach to the retrial of the men they say were wrongly convicted of killing unionist Chea Vichea

Supreme Court ruling on Chea Vichea killers gets mixed reaction

Vuon Phon, Sok Sam Oeun’s father who has campaigned for his son’s release, talks to reporters after Wednesday’s court ruling.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Christopher Shay
Friday, 02 January 2009

After nearly five years in prison, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun – convicted of killing union leader Chea Vichea – have been released pending an Appeal Court retrial

BORN Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the convicted murderers of outspoken union leader Chea Vichea, woke up in prison for the 1,798th time on Wednesday but went to bed free men.

The Cambodian Supreme Court on Wednesday sent their case back down to the Appeal Court and released them from prison, citing contradictory evidence in the previous trials.

For the first time in nearly five years, the two men were going home.

But many rights organisations - though pleased with Wednesday's decision - are not ready to believe in the independence of the Cambodian judiciary.

"Looking back later, we would hope that this is when the Cambodian judiciary turned the corner.... But we can't say this solves the problem. One case doesn't make or break a long pattern of deeply entrenched impunity," said Sara Colm of Human Rights Watch.

The intense local and international attention that this case received may have led to a rare set of circumstances where the court could decide on the facts, resulting in a decision that may not be indicative of the judiciary as a whole, Colm said.


"The fact that the Supreme Court sent the case back is definitely a very welcome development.... But we don't know what will happen at the Appeal Court.

"The US embassy said in a release that it hoped "the appeal court will take up the case expeditiously and finally resolve this matter in a way consistent with Cambodian law and international standards of due process".

Suon Sareth, executive secretary at the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, shared Colm's wait-and-see approach.

"When the Cambodian court has a case like this, they can't abruptly drop it. They delay, delay, delay and hope it will be forgotten. When they say they will conduct a new investigation, they will find nothing, and it will take years," he said.

"But we will follow. We will monitor," he promised. "[This] is only a first step in an independent judiciary."

Happy to be free

As Born Samnang was escorted into a car back to prison while his release papers were being processed, he told reporters: "I am very happy and excited for the court's decision to release me."

Sok Sam Oeun's father, Vuon Phon, told the Post, "I'm so happy my son will be released, and I could see him with a big smile".

In addition to requesting a new investigation into Chea Vichea's killing, Peung Yok Hiep, a lawyer representing Chea Mony, the deceased's brother, requested that the pair receive US$50,000 in civil compensation for their time in jail.

Prosecutor Chhoun Chantha remained adamant about the pair's guilt.

"It's normal for the accused to find ways to fool the court in order for them to be released from punishment," he told reporters after the hearing.

But around the courtroom, he was in the minority.

When Judge Dith Monty, the court president, announced his ruling after the four-hour hearing, the audience outside the courtroom burst into applause, ecstatic that the two men would have another chance at freedom.

"I am delighted about the Supreme Court's decision because it will provide a way for further investigations to seek justice for Chea Vichea," said Rong Chhun, a friend of the slain man, who was gunned down at a newspaper stand in 2004.

Though the convictions were widely and repeatedly condemned by local and international rights organisations, many expressed surprise at the court's announcement, temporarily releasing the men and opening the possibility that they could be freed permanently.

'Strange and surprised'

The executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), Sok Sam Oeun - no relation to the defendant - was stunned.

"I feel strange and surprised because I never trusted the independence of the Supreme Court. I hope this means the judiciary in Cambodia is improving," he said.

Chea Mony, who has condemned the two men's conviction, did not even attend the trial, saying he had lost faith in the Cambodian judicial system.

"However, I now have a newfound confidence in the court system, and I think the investigation at the Appeal Court level will not take as much time as the previous investigation," he said.

The provisional release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun is, said Sok Sam Oeun of the Cambodian Defenders Project, "the first case in our judicial history of a pretrial release following a Supreme Court case".

Helmets flying off shelves ahead of new traffic law

A student tries on a new helmet in Phnom Penh earlier this week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal and Hor Hab
Friday, 02 January 2009

City vendors reaping windfall from helmet requirement that govt says already has drastically increased their use

Phnom Penh vendors say helmet sales spiked in the weeks ahead of a new law requiring their use by motorbike commuters that came into effect on Thursday.

"Especially since the prime minister told people to wear helmets in his speech a couple weeks ago, a lot of people have come to buy helmets," said Eik Heang, a vendor near Deum Kor Market, adding that her daily sales have climbed from 10 to 40 helmets since last month.

She said most customers spend about US$15 on helmets, though the price range of her selection varies from $5 to $150.

Eik Heang said the number of sellers has also spiked along with the rise in demand.

"I just opened a small shop last month and I can sell around 10 per day," said Suy Se, who also sells near Deum Kor Market. "It's good business."

The newly enacted Land Traffic Law states that "drivers of motorcycles, tricycles and motorcycles with trailers or remorques must wear helmets". Offenders will be fined 3,000 riels ($0.74) and have one of 12 points deducted from their driver's licence, the law stipulates.

According to the NGO Handicap International, in June 2008 less than a quarter of Cambodians wore helmets while commuting on motorbikes - a daunting statistic considering that motorbikes account for three of four road accidents in Cambodia, and 35 percent of traffic deaths result from head injures, according to statistics from the Interior Ministry.

The city's Traffic Police chief, Tin Prasoeur, said "it is a positive sign that people are showing respect for the law and the advice of their leader", but he singled out students as a problem group that generally refuses to wear helmets.

Municipal Court has fewer cases pending from last year: official

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam rith
Friday, 02 January 2009

Court President Chiv Keng credits greater efficiency and the addition of more judges and prosecutors for the rise in closed cases

A TOP Phnom Penh Municipal Court official said Monday greater efficiency and an increase in judges has seen a dramatic reduction in outstanding cases this year.

Chiv Keng, president of the Municipal Court, said despite a normal annual case load, the court has been able to render more judgments than last year.

"By the end of 2008, we will have about 6,500 unresolved cases. At the end of 2007, that number was 9,200, he told the Post on Monday.

"This does not mean that we've had fewer cases this year. We received a similar number of cases to previous years, but this year we worked efficiently and increased the number of judges and prosecutors," he said.

Chiv Keng said the Municipal Court on average receives between 3,000 and 5,000 new cases each year.

"We have solved more court cases this year than last year," he said.

More judges

The court upped its number of judges in 2008 from nine to 16, Chiv Keng said, adding that plans are in place to reach a target of 45 judges in coming months, as well as 25 prosecutors, up from the current number of eight.


He added that space has become an issue for the court, which plans to build a new six-storey building at its current location.

Cramped quarters

In its latest annual report, the Court Watch Project-conducted between October 2006 and September 2007 by the Center for Social Development-found that the court had only two courtrooms, in which it heard more than 884 criminal cases within the reporting period.

The report said the court heard an average of three criminal cases each day, with half the trials monitored lasting less than 20 minutes.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director for the Cambodian Defenders Project, said he saw improvement in the court system but that there was much work still to be done.

"The court should grant greater independence to its judges so that they can make their own decisions about court cases," he said.

Chiv Keng acknowledged that Cambodian courts are not perfect and that many years would be needed to initiate improvements.

"We are not 100 percent perfect now. But we have made many reforms, and we don't hear as much criticism about the court being corrupt as we did in the last three or four years," he said.

He added that the court now has a mechanism whereby people can report inactivity or any other abuses of power.

Chiv Keng said Cambodia needs up to 300 additional judges and prosecutors to serve throughout the country.

Cambodia currently has only about 200 judges and prosecutors nationwide, he said.

Police seize pawned motos

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Police and shop owners inspect registration numbers at a motorbike dealer in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Friday, 02 January 2009

Raids on illegal pawnshops have turned up hundreds of motorbikes without legal license plates as police implement a new social directive from the PM

Police seized more than a thousand motorbikes from pawnshops across Phnom Penh this week in an effort to crack down on motorbike theft, police officials said.

A total of 1,170 bikes were retrieved during the ongoing action coordinated by the municipal governor, Phnom Penh Deputy Municipal Police Chief Pol Pithey said Tuesday.

The biggest raids took place in Tuol Kork, where police seized 779 motorbikes from 13 illegal pawnshops, district Governor Seng Rattanak said on Monday.

"In each place, we found 70 to 100 motorbikes without [licence]plate numbers, [vehicle] tax numbers or proper identification, so they may have been involved in a larceny", he said.

Kuch Chamroeun, governor of Meanchey district, said Sunday that police removed 286 motorbikes from a single pawnshop in the area and detained the owner for questioning, adding that he suspected illegal activities.

Police are now checking the bikes' licence codes and engine numbers, and will ask pawnshop owners to produce the matching documents, the officials said.

"Pawnshop owners will be interrogated if we find they were pawning illegal motorbikes without proper documents," Seng Rattanak said.

The officials invited victims of motorbike theft to retrieve their property from district police stations by bringing both their ownership certificate and the bike's vehicle tax certificate.Pol Pithey said he was trying to contact other provincial commissioners in order to identify the owners of stolen vehicles.

The crackdown on illegal pawnshops followed an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen to maintain security, Seng Rattanak said, explaining that trade in stolen goods was a threat to society.

Men Phally, who owns a pawnshop for motorbikes and cars at Stung Meanchey commune, said on Sunday she appreciates the police action.

"I welcome the crackdown because I see that there are still several shops in Phnom Penh that receive motorbikes without proper documents but sell them for a high profit."

"My shop always pays careful attention to the motorbikes because we are afraid that, if we receive stolen goods without legal documents, we will be accused of receiving illegal property," she said, adding that her shop has never had any problems in its many years in business.

Sirirath remains committed to politics

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Friday, 02 January 2009

Prince Sisowath Sirirath, second deputy president of Funcinpec, told the Post Tuesday he has no intention of quitting politics, despite pressure from other royals to keep the royal family separate from national politics.

Sirirath said until a law is passed prohibiting him from party membership, he will continue his political work. "When I was a boy, I began studying politics. It is the only subject I know well."

Sirirath's comments follow a public statement by Prince Sisowath Thomico on Tuesday urging any royal with connections to the palace to quit all political activities and party memberships.

Govt to decide on graphic warning labels for cigarettes

Photo Supplied
One of six proposed graphic warning labels under review for use in Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Friday, 02 January 2009

Health officials point to the strong and easily recognisable messages the disturbing logos send about the health risks of smoking

NEW graphic warning labels will grace all cigarette packs sold in Cambodia beginning next month if the government approves a plan by the Ministry of Health, according to a government health official.

"Three of four families in Cambodia are suffering from the health impacts of smoking, so it is essential we alert people to the negative impact of cigarettes," said Lim Thai Khean, director of the National Center for Health Promotion of the Ministry of Health, adding that he was confident the government would support the proposal.

The six proposed warning logos would point to various adverse health effects associated with smoking, including lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, stroke, tooth decay and the dangers of secondhand smoke, he said.

He said graphic logos have proven effective at deterring potential cigarette buyers in other countries because they expressed the health hazards of smoking in visual terms that cannot be ignored.

If the proposal by the Ministry of Health is approved by the government, the new labels would be tacked onto cigarette packs beginning mid-February.

Loud and clear

Currently, only some cigarette companies in Cambodia print warning labels on their packs, and their labels tend to be muted. Studies indicate that warnings using only text have little effect on the behaviour of cigarette consumers.

"I am optimistic all tobacco companies would follow the scheme. Some of them may be late [to conform], but they have to do what we tell them," Lim Thai Khean said.

Mom Kong, executive director of the NGO Cambodia Movement for Health, also emphasised the easily recognised message of graphic warnings.

"It's an efficient and straightforward way to reduce cigarette smoking because it sends a message about the impact of smoking that both literate and illiterate people can understand, even children," he said.

The labels are part of a wider government program to limit tobacco use among the population, including a recently introduced measure in Kampot to prohibit smoking in all of the province's government health clinics.

According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation, 5.4 million people die annually as a consequence of smoking, 80 percent of them in developing countries.

Reahu's art made to shock

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Somanos Sar
Friday, 02 January 2009

Dear Editor,

can't help myself to keep silent after reading your article "Controversial artist fights back" (Phnom Penh Post, December 26).

Maybe I should directly address to the artist himself, through his website, but The Phnom Penh Post seems to me a neutral and a better place for constructive debates; for it's a matter of limits between freedom and rights.

I'm not at all shocked by other paintings from Reahu. Naked is a natural state of life. Everybody was born naked. But if ever the artist reads your columns, I would suggest him to paint a female Nazi fighter in the same way he has painted the female Khmer Rouge fighter. Maybe he could then feel the frontiers between freedom and responsibility.

Of course, no law prohibits such creation. ... Everybody is free to do such things, obviously. But ... considering all the pain and suffering the Khmers Rouge inflicted to millions Cambodians, to which freedom should one give the priority?

To be an artist or public personality requires awareness of [the] impacts one's attitude could have on social and/or political environments. As well, to be a citizen implies the same scheme of considerations toward the overall environment. It's not a matter of auto-censure, but just of responsibility and ethics. For in this part of the Universe, for light years around, only our planet is life-friendly. That means resources are necessarily limited and have to be shared among billions of us. It's just to say there is no place for absolute freedom on Earth. Provocative approaches in the name of freedom are more designed to make buzz and to disguise poor creativity, than to make things really progress.

Somanos Sar

Police Blotter: 02 Jan 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by LIM PHALLA
Friday, 02 January 2009


Three Battambang students, Sin Ratha, 20, Keo Sok Samnang, 17, and Seng Udom, 15, spent a night in prison after pulling wheelies on their motorbikes Sunday. After receiving a lecture from the police and promising with a thumbprint they would not act like this again, they were set free the next morning.


46-year-old Chhun Mao died Monday morning in a hospital from injuries he sustained when he ran his motorbike, without lights, into a tuk-tuk that was parked by the road side in Kampot province.


Soy Sokly, 21, from Kampong Cham province, was arrested on Sunday morning for trying to sell a stolen motorbike in the Pailin town market. He had stolen the bike from local resident Try Chhunleang, 40, while he was harvesting corn for his parents-in-law next to the victim's house. RASMEY KAMPUCHEA


Two men asked Nhol Sophan, 24, from Siem Reap province, to a take them to a quiet square in town last Tuesday. When they arrived, they punched him and injured him with a wooden stick, before making off with his motorbike. They then tried to sell the bike for $250, but people were suspicious and would not buy it. One week later, police arrested one of the suspects, Duong Khna, a 24-year-old from Kampot province, and found the motorbike and returned it to its owner. The other suspect managed to escape.


Son Ol, a 45-year-old construction worker from Kandal province, was found dead at a construction site in Phnom Penh on Sunday morning. Police said they believed he had fallen off a five-metre high staircase the night before.

Ly Kim Hong, 17, was introducing a man to prostitutes in Daun Penh district, Phnom Penh, after midnight last Tuesday. Suddenly, he snatched the man's necklace and made a run for it. The victim, shouting for help, was aided by residents who caught up with the thief and delivered him to the police.

Reahu should "rechannel' his art

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Dr Peg LeVine
Friday, 02 January 2009

Dear Editor,

Paintings by an artist who identifies as a "Khmer-American" named "Reahu" have hit a justifiable chord of restlessness in Cambodia as noted in The Phnom Penh Post, 26 December, 2008, by Sam Rith and Cornelius Rahn: "Controversial Artist Fights Back".

The mysterious artist whose depictions of bare-breasted Apsara dancers and Khmer Rouge soldiers unleashed a public outrage has fought back in a series of pointed attacks on critics.

Without entering a debate on the parameters surrounding artistic freedom, open-mindedness, or "evidence of the strength of a culture", I write to give voice to the Apsaras whose sculptural bodies were defaced over 30 years ago; the graceful bodies and spirits of these deities who endured the red paint thrust on them by the Khmer Rouge in the temples of Angkor Wat. It is only now that these colours begin to fade on these deities whose seduction was always intended as a means for protection.

As a clinical psychologist-anthropologist, and sculptor, I try mostly to make sense of the processes by which Reahu justifies the "meaning" he attaches to his images.

You see, it is not the images, per se, that are at issue here. Rather, it is the vehemence by which he "uses", if not abuses the ancestral and culturally-embedded meanings of the Apsara.

Reahu's images have a sensual beauty to them; this is not in question. And if he had taken a different political spin, such as defending his work based on the "exploitation of youth soldiers" with no line drawn to the Apsara - the images could stand alone, literally, and the viewer could project her or his own meaning onto the work.

What disturbs me is the "born again" defiance and the content of the argument. In some ways, the quality of his defiance re-enacts the Khmer Rouge forceful justification for their means that broke down the ritual infrastructure of the nation, Cambodia.

It is one thing to have a vision; but the means used to justify a vision can be neutral, constructive or destructive. I remain unsure of Reahu's vision or the points underlying his provocation, but I can assure you that his means appear to be less than constructive to the restoration and preservation of cultural infrastructure inside Cambodia.

As a social scientist and artist, I am interested in how Crimes Against Cultures are justified, imposed and perpetuated in the "Name of Development". Are those with North American "beliefs" on artistic licence and freedom capable of perceiving the ancestors' cries? If they could hear the echoing atrocities, would they act differently?

Does Reahu have any "perceptual" knowledge of the symbolic meaning embedded in the image of the Apsara? Is he aware of the published work by Sappho Marchal (1927), who catalogued the diversity of headdresses, garments, stance, jewels and decorative flowers of the Apsaras (with nearly 1,900 images catalogued)?

I, too, produced art during my nine-year ethnographic formal study, in which I mapped the breakdown of traditional rituals by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979 in my soon to be released book (with National University of Singapore Press). I pen this Opinion based on my findings. I generated a series of ceramic, wax and bronze sculptures that I call Taboo.

However, these are three-dimensional images that represent the extremes taken by the Khmer Rouge that left people repulsed when they touched their own starving bodies - forcing them into the realm of the grotesque, the taboo.

But one grave atrocity I documented was the double-suffering that people endured by the breakdown of spirit protection by the Khmer Rouge - a nation enduring without spirit infrastructure - loss of monks, wats and rituals by which to find spirit protection for the living and the dead. Over the course of a decade, I was able to map the forces leading to Ritualcide (my term) that accompanied the documented Genocide.

In closing, I find it interesting that Reahu identifies as a "pure-bred Khmer" and "Khmer-American" in this website ( and writes: "If this brings down the Khmer culture, then your Khmer culture is still under the Khmer Rouge." By pointing to "your" Khmer culture, Reahu demonstrates that he is perhaps American-Khmer over Khmer-American. That aside, I challenge him to rechannel his boldness - to use art in ways that defy the perpetuation of "ritualcide" and to assist in restoring cultural infrastructure as a "Cultural Duty of Care".

Dr Peg LeVine
Monash Asia Institute,
Monash University

Thais set to discuss dispute: minister

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Wednesday, 31 December 2008

THAILAND'S newly-appointed top diplomat plans to visit Cambodia to discuss the long-running dispute over territory along the countries' shared border, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said Tuesday.

Hor Namhong said he spoke by phone to Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who said he is willing to continue negotiations towards a peaceful solution to the border issue. "The day before yesterday [December 28], he called me and we extended wishes for the New Year to each other," Hor Namhong said.

Tempers flared on the border after the Preah Vihear temple was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in early July, angering Thai nationalists who demanded that the then-government reclaim territory allegedly lost to Cambodia, including the 11th-century ruins.

Hor Namhong said political turmoil in Thailand, which has seen two prime ministers toppled this year alone, have slowed negotiations, leading to an escalation of border tensions that erupted in clashes between Thai and Cambodian soldiers in October.

"[But] I can say that the military clash is old news.... So, we have to wait and be patient until Thailand's internal issues are resolved," Hor Namhong said.

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated the 805-kilometre shared border, though Cambodia's top negotiator, Var Kimhong, told the Post Sunday that Cambodia and Thailand would resume border talks in late January.

Meas Yoeun, deputy military commander at Preah Vihear, said that the situation along the frontier is stable and that Cambodian troops are undergoing further training. "All institutions have to strengthen our forces," he said.

Cambodia opens new entry points to attract foreign tourists

VOV News

Cambodia has announced establishment of nine border entry points with Vietnam, six with Thailand and one with Laos, said the Lao Ministry of Tourism.

This is part of a plan to attract more foreign tourists to the country, said Pak So Khum, Deputy Secretary of State at the Ministry.

The new entry points are located in places with beautiful scenery, he added, and the two busiest of them are those at the borders with Vietnam and Thailand. VNA

The Sothea Set to Open in Cambodia on Valentines Day

e-Travel Blackboard
Friday, 2 January 2009

Valentines Day in 2009 will herald the opening of The Sothea – a luxurious hotel in Seim Reap, Cambodia were guests will be able to find a relaxing refuge from the outside world.

Nestled amidst tranquil gardens and softly flowing waterways The Sothea is conveniently located beside the Cambodian Village, and only 10 minutes from the Siem Reap International Airport and 15 minutes from the Angkor Temple Compound.

The one-of-a-kind hideaway combines a contemporary resort design and subtle images of traditional Cambodian art and craftsmanship throughout its 39 impeccably designed suites, which range from 40 to 130 square metres.

Guests at The Sothea will also have access to the hotels amazing dining facilities including Keo Restaurant which offers classic international favourites, traditional Khmer cuisine and champagne music with live piano music featured daily.

Guests will also be able to enjoy hotel’s signature “themed afternoon teas” at The Sothea Terrace and then they can unwind and ‘get loose and fancy free’ at Ziva for its ‘destress hour’ and late night music.

Other facilities and services available at the hotel include: Concierge and multilingual staff, Tailor-made Travel and Tour arrangements, Limousine pick-ups, Helicopter Tours, Personalized Butler Service, 24-hour room service, Library of movies, books and music cds, Internet access, Swimming Pool and gym facilities as well as Private Yoga sessions.

Cambodian gov't urged to invest more in agricultural sector

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- A well-known expert has called on the Cambodian government to devote more resources to the rural sector in efforts to mitigate the effects of the global economic crisis, the Phnom Penh Post reported on Friday.

While the tourism and garment sectors continue to struggle for access to international markets during the slowdown, Cambodia's agricultural sector holds the best hope of weathering the crisis, Kang Chandararot, president of the Cambodian Institute for Development Study, was quoted by the English-language daily newspaper as saying.

"We face a difficult situation, but the government should use most of the (nearly) 1 billion U.S. dollars of donor aid to develop our rural areas as a top priority," he said.

Greater improvements in rural development would cut poverty and reduce dependence on loans from banks or microfinance institutions, he said.

"While direct loans from banks and microfinance institutions provide necessary support, aid through the rural development and agriculture ministries should be used to modernize our agricultural methods," he said.

Such aid should be used to renovate Cambodia's aging water systems, find new seedlings and fertilizers, and improve rural markets, he said.

Cambodia used to be the major rice and some other rural products exporter in the region but years of war has made it lag behind Thailand and Vietnam in the past decades.

Currently, garment, tourism and infrastructure are the pillar industries of the kingdom.

Editor: Jiang Yuxia

Cambodian Court Frees Alleged Killers ; Question is Who Killed Chea Vichea?

Born Samnang (C) prays as he is escorted by police into a police van after his trial in Phnom Penh December 31, 2008. Cambodia's Supreme Court granted bail on Wednesday to two men jailed for the 2004 murder of a prominent union leader and ordered a review of their case, which rights groups say was seriously flawed.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Sok Sam Oeun (C) is escorted by police into a prison car after his trial in Phnom Penh December 31, 2008. Cambodia's Supreme Court granted bail on Wednesday to two men jailed for the 2004 murder of a prominent union leader and ordered a review of their case, which rights groups say was seriously flawed.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Sok Sam Oeun (C) is escorted by police into supreme court in Phnom Penh December 31, 2008. Cambodia's Supreme Court granted bail on Wednesday to two men jailed for the 2004 murder of a prominent union leader and ordered a review of their case, which rights groups say was seriously flawed.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Born Samnang (C) pray as he is escorted by police into supreme court in Phnom Penh December 31, 2008. Cambodia's Supreme Court granted bail on Wednesday to two men jailed for the 2004 murder of a prominent union leader and ordered a review of their case, which rights groups say was seriously flawed.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Born Samnang (C) is escorted by police into a police van after his trial in Phnom Penh December 31, 2008. Cambodia's Supreme Court granted bail on Wednesday to two men jailed for the 2004 murder of a prominent union leader and ordered a review of their case, which rights groups say was seriously flawed.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian Sok Sam Oeun (centre) the previously convicted murderer of prominent Cambodian labour leader Chea Vichea, is escorted by police at the Supreme court in Phnom Penh. Cambodia's highest court has provisionally released two alleged killers of Vichea and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

The Evil Behind the Smiles

Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times
Sina Vann
The New York Times


Published: December 31, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Western men who visit red-light districts in poor countries often find themselves surrounded by coquettish teenage girls laughingly tugging them toward the brothels. The men assume that the girls are there voluntarily, and in some cases they are right.

But anyone inclined to take the girls’ smiles at face value should talk to Sina Vann, who was once one of those smiling girls.

Sina is Vietnamese but was kidnapped at the age of 13 and taken to Cambodia, where she was drugged. She said she woke up naked and bloody on a bed with a white man — she doesn’t know his nationality — who had purchased her virginity.

After that, she was locked on the upper floors of a nice hotel and offered to Western men and wealthy Cambodians. She said she was beaten ferociously to force her to smile and act seductive.

“My first phrase in Khmer,” the Cambodian language, “was, ‘I want to sleep with you,’ ” she said. “My first phrase in English was” — well, it’s unprintable.

Sina mostly followed instructions and smiled alluringly at men because she would have been beaten if men didn’t choose her. But sometimes she was in such pain that she resisted, and then she said she would be dragged down to a torture chamber in the basement.

“Many of the brothels have these torture chambers,” she said. “They are underground because then the girls’ screams are muffled.”

As in many brothels, the torture of choice was electric shocks. Sina would be tied down, doused in water and then prodded with wires running from the 220-volt wall outlet. The jolt causes intense pain, sometimes evacuation of the bladder and bowel — and even unconsciousness.
Shocks fit well into the brothel business model because they cause agonizing pain and terrify the girls without damaging their looks or undermining their market value.

After the beatings and shocks, Sina said she would be locked naked in a wooden coffin full of biting ants. The coffin was dark, suffocating and so tight that she could not move her hands up to her face to brush off the ants. Her tears washed the ants out of her eyes.

She was locked in the coffin for a day or two at a time, and she said this happened many, many times.

Finally, Sina was freed in a police raid, and found herself blinded by the first daylight she had seen in years. The raid was organized by Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who herself had been sold into the brothels but managed to escape, educate herself and now heads a foundation fighting forced prostitution.

After being freed, Sina began studying and eventually became one of Somaly’s trusted lieutenants. They now work together, in defiance of death threats from brothel owners, to free other girls. To get at Somaly, the brothel owners kidnapped and brutalized her 14-year-old daughter. And six months ago, the daughter of another anti-trafficking activist (my interpreter when I interviewed Sina) went missing.

I had heard about torture chambers under the brothels but had never seen one, so a few days ago Sina took me to the red-light district here where she once was imprisoned. A brothel had been torn down, revealing a warren of dungeons underneath.

“I was in a room just like those,” she said, pointing. “There must be many girls who died in those rooms.” She grew distressed and added: “I’m cold and afraid. Tonight I won’t sleep.”

“Photograph quickly,” she added, and pointed to brothels lining the street. “It’s not safe to stay here long.”

Sina and Somaly sustain themselves with a wicked sense of humor. They tease each other mercilessly, with Sina, who is single, mock-scolding Somaly: “At least I had plenty of men until you had to come along and rescue me!”

Sex trafficking is truly the 21st century’s version of slavery. One of the differences from 19th-century slavery is that many of these modern slaves will die of AIDS by their late 20s.

Whenever I report on sex trafficking, I come away less depressed by the atrocities than inspired by the courage of modern abolitionists like Somaly and Sina. They are risking their lives to help others still locked up in the brothels, and they have the credibility and experience to lead this fight. In my next column, I’ll introduce a girl that Sina is now helping to recover from mind-boggling torture in a brothel — and Sina’s own story gives hope to the girl in a way that an army of psychologists couldn’t.

I hope that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will recognize slavery as unfinished business on the foreign policy agenda. The abolitionist cause simply hasn’t been completed as long as 14-year-old girls are being jolted with electric shocks — right now, as you read this — to make them smile before oblivious tourists.

Cambodia: Court Suspected Killers

Cambodian prisoners Born Samnang, left, and Sok Sam Oeun, center, are paraded by police in Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008. A Cambodian highest court on Wednesday provisionally released the two believed to have been framed for murdering a prominent labor leader and government critic.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Sok Sam Oeun (centre) the previously convicted murderer of prominent Cambodian labour leader Chea Vichea, is escorted by police at the Supreme court in Phnom Penh. Cambodia's highest court has provisionally released two alleged killers of Vichea and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Cambodia's highest court on Wednesday (31 Dec) provisionally released two imprisoned men many believe were framed in the murder of a prominent labor leader and government critic.

Supreme Court judge Dith Munty ordered the temporary release of Born Samnang, 24 and Sok Sam Oeun, 36, but also ordered further investigation and preparations for the retrial of the two convicted men.

The two are serving 20-year prison terms for the 2004 killing of Chea Vichea, the former head of Cambodia's Free Trade Union of Workers and an outspoken critic of government corruption and human rights abuses.

Dith Munty said the court temporary released the duo since they had already served more than four years of their terms and clarification was needed over some points during the investigation and trial by a lower court.

The release comes after strong protests from leading local and international human rights groups.

"The Cambodian Supreme Court should rely on the evidence and not give in to government pressure when it reviews the case," said Sara Colm, of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a statement earlier this week.

"Born Samang and Sok Sam Oeun have already spent five years behind bars for a crime they did not commit, and it is time for justice to be done in this case," the statement added.

Chea Vichea, 36, was the founder and president of the Free Trade Union of Workers. He was shot and killed in broad daylight in front of a newsstand in Phnom Penh on 22 Jan 2004.

Vichea was well known for his outspoken efforts to organize garment workers and to fight for improved working conditions in Cambodia, work he continued in spite of death threats.

MySinchew 2008.12.31

60 killed, over 200 injured in Thailand nightclub fire

The Nation

At least 60 were people killed, including many foreigners, and more than 200 injured when a fierce fire ripped through a popular nightclub in Thailand's capital Bangkok on early thursday morning. The blaze broke out at the famous Santika Club, frequented by both locals and tourists, in Ekkamai area after a pyrotechnic display ignited the second floor ceiling largely made of soundproofing material, reports said.

A number of foreigners, mainly Asians, were among the casualties from the blaze that erupted shortly after midnight at the club, police said.

Nearly 10 foreigners, including from Australia, the Netherlands, Nepal and Japan, were reported to be killed during the stampede to get out of the club from burns, smoke inhalation and injuries during the incident, they said adding, around 30 bodies were charred beyond recognition.

According to some reports, the fire could have started from the short circuiting of pyrotechnics used by the music band entertaining the crowd on the stage.

However, the Website of The Nation newspaper quoted one partygoer, Somchai Frendi, as saying the blaze was caused by the countdown fireworks that ignited the second floor ceiling, which was made largely of soundproofing material.

The Sankita club was in the process of moving to another premises soon and the New Year's party was to bid farewell to 2008 as well as the old premises and security arrangements here were not full proof.

The police said that the two-storey club, where over 1000 people were present at the time of the incident, was completely gutted by the fire with the front of the building blackened and partially collapsed.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited the still-smoldering club but did not talk to reporters.

Cambodian court releases alleged killers of union boss

Brunei Times

Thursday, January 1, 2009

CAMBODIA'S highest court yesterday provisionally released two alleged killers of a prominent labour leader and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.

Chea Vichea, who headed the country's largest labour union and was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand in January 2004.

The daylight murder shocked the country and was condemned by Cambodian and international rights groups as a brutal attempt to silence the opposition-linked workers' group.

Just days after the killing, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested, convicted of murder and quickly sentenced to 20 years each in prison.

International and local rights watchdogs had called the conviction and trial deeply flawed.After the two men made their final appeal during a hearing yesterday at the Supreme Court, judge Dith Monty, the court's president, dismissed the conviction, which was upheld by the Appeal Court in 2007."

The case is a criminal one which requires more investigation," Dith Monty said, adding that to make sure the men's rights were not violated, the court had "decided to release the two suspects provisionally, but under watch of the court."

The judge also ordered the Appeal Court to retry the case, adding that the two men had to appear before the court when summoned.

The pair have denied any involvement in the killing.

Former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who led the investigation, has also said that the two did not kill Chea Vichea.

The men told the court, which was packed with diplomats, rights activists, journalists and their relatives, that they had been framed by a group of police.

UN rights officials, the United States and relatives of the accused welcomed the court's decision."It was greeted with a warm round of applause".


Hand Washing a Low Priority in Rural Cambodia, Study Says; ADRA Improves Hygiene Practices

31 Dec 2008

Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International

Satha Sin, ADRA Cambodia / Nadia McGill and Hearly Mayr, ADRA International

Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

Silver Spring, Maryland�Only one in four rural Cambodians practice appropriate hand washing regardless of access to clean water and hygiene knowledge, according to a recent study presented by ADRA at the World Federation of Public Health Associations/American Public Health Association (WFPHA/APHA) Annual International Health Breakfast held in San Diego, California.

Dr. Leonard Uisetiawan, provincial projects advisor for the ADRA office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who presented the study, discussed the perception and hand washing practices among rural Cambodians. According to Dr. Uisetiawan, the project concluded that less than 26 percent of rural Cambodians use good hand washing techniques regardless of access to clean water and hygiene knowledge. In addition, less than 6 percent of child caretakers properly washed their hands after changing a child's soiled diaper or after defecation.

This research, funded by Colgate-Palmolive through the American Public Health Association, also highlighted that the practice of hand washing in Cambodian homes is not dependent on the availability of soap, water, buckets, accessibility to hand washing areas, household size, amount of children, mother's vocation, or educational level.

"There is a belief that hand washing with soap is a waste of money, water, and time," said Satha Sin, public relations officer for ADRA Cambodia.

Through the findings of this project, ADRA will provide information to parents that will help them improve the health of their children, by promoting good habits as role models. ADRA hopes that parents' approach to teaching personal hygiene, specifically hand washing, will be modified.

"By utilizing traditional values, perspectives, and community beliefs, we expect to be able to increase the number of villages that practice proper hand washing," said Dr. Uisetiawan.

The Hand Washing Research Project has been conducted over the past year as part of "Phum Mittapheap Koma", a three-year initiative aimed at improving rural health and reducing morbidity and mortality among more than 22,500 women and 17,400 children in the Kampong Thom province.

According to the Cambodia Demographic Health Survey, nearly nine percent of Cambodian children die before the age of five as a result of diarrhea, which is associated closely with the ingestion of contaminated food or water. The study identified this as one of the leading causes of death among young children.

ADRA has been active in Cambodia since 1988 in the three main sectors of Health, Water and Sanitation, and Food Security.

ADRA is a non-governmental organization present in 125 countries providing sustainable community development and disaster relief without regard to political or religious association, age, gender, race, or ethnicity.

Additional information about ADRA can be found at

Author: Satha Sin, ADRA Cambodia / Nadia McGill and Hearly Mayr, ADRA International.

Media Contact: John Torres, Senior Public Relations Manager, ADRA International 12501 Old Columbia Pike Silver Spring, MD 20904 Phone: 301.680.6357 E-mail:

Gang Rape Pervasive Across Cambodia

by Rachel Snyder, December 31, 2008

The tiny Southeast Asian country of Cambodia has seen explosive economic growth in the past five years.

Skyscrapers will soon dominate the country's skyline and predictions of oil wealth offer hope that the country is finally beginning to outgrow its grisly past.

But a chilling form of recreation — gang rape — reminds everyone that for Cambodia, the past may yet still loom.

One Woman's Story

Mao, 18, is from Pursat, a small village with a few hundred families. Through a translator at the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center in the capital of Phnom Phen, she says she is too ashamed to say her last name.

"There was a wedding in Pursat, and I went to participate," she says. "At the wedding this man asked me to dance and I went to dance with him."

The man then said he had a friend with a question for her, and he led her from the wedding to a field nearby.

"When he dragged me out, there was his two friends with him and three more were waiting in the fields," Mao says.

Two of the men raped her before others were alerted by her screams. Eight days later, she told her story from a safe house.

What happened to Mao has a name in Cambodia: bauk. Its literal translation means "plus," but it also means gang rape, a chilling social phenomenon among young men in the city.

A few years ago, a local nongovernmental organization put together a video of victims and perpetrators. In the video, one voice is distorted to hide the victim's identity. This girl says she was raped and sodomized by four men in a guest house. The next morning, she says, she called the police, but they told her she had no evidence.

'Socially Acceptable'

David Wilkinson, a consultant living in Cambodia, and his colleagues were studying condom usage among college boys in 2002 when they found that bauk was a socially accepted form of recreation for young middle-class Khmer men.

"They described it as a situation where one or two young men would procure the services of, generally, a street-based sex worker, then they would take her to a guest house to have sex, and when they got there they would have arranged for between four and 10 of their friends to be waiting," Wilkinson says. "And they would coerce or try and induce the woman to have sex with all of them. Very often she was verbally or physically abused and would then be subsequently gang raped."

Generally, bauk happens to sex workers, but it can also happen to what the men in Wilkinson's studies call "normal" girls — girls like Mao.

"There is growing indication that the groups of victims extend now beyond those involved in sex work, and we've got stories of school girls, garment factory workers, middle-class young women being gang raped," Wilkinson says.

Napsarin Sreynoth, the secretary general of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, says prostitutes don't seek help in their shelters because they think bauk is part of their job. But other bauk victims, like Mao, do come.

"Some victim, they are under 15 years old," says Tong Sophrach, who worked with Wilkinson on the initial research. "Every month that we receive the gang rape or rape bauk and the victim — they are from Pursat, Kompang, Chnnam. It everywhere happen in Cambodia."

Tong says they interviewed taxi drivers in rural areas and found evidence of bauk in at least 21 of Cambodia's 24 provinces. Tong adds that the young men who commit the rapes think it's funny.

Possible Explanations For 'Bauk' Proliferation

Wilkinson says there are many possible reasons why bauk has proliferated. Many believe it's a male-bonding experience: It costs about $15 to hire a prostitute for the night and paying for just one prostitute saves money. There are also few recreational opportunities for young people.

Wilkinson says the bauk phenomenon may be linked to the genocide in 1975-1979, when up to 1.5 million people died from starvation, disease or execution.

"It's difficult to say whether this phenomenon is a result of the deprivations imposed by the Khmer Rouge regime, but what you've got is a generation of young people now whose parents didn't really experience adolescence and so have no real models or norms on which to base how to be good parents," he says. "And it's possible this has had an effect on how they relate to their sons."

In addition, Wilkinson says, bauk may be triggered by the kind of pornography available in Phnom Penh, which he says is the worst that researchers have seen.

'An Aberration Of Khmer Society'

The government, however, blames outside influences.

"Rape itself is very often happening in Cambodia due to the influence of the Western culture with the illegal entry or import of pornography film," says You Ay, from the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

But many fault the government for not denouncing bauk more publicly. Tong says that while there have been arrests, he knows of no prosecutions specifically for bauk. Wilkinson, who has lived in Cambodia for a decade, says he believes a high-level government condemnation of bauk could begin to solve the problem.

"It's really just an aberration of Khmer society, and so as such, it wouldn't be difficult for the political leaders to put a stop to it," he says. "With the backing of senior levels of government this would happen."

In Wilkinson's follow-up research, he asked young people what most concerned them. The girls' responses were all about avoiding rape.

"The interview with the boys was more intriguing," he says. "They wanted to know how they could either coerce or bribe the girl afterward not to take action against them."

A famous adage in Cambodia says that men are gold and women are cloth. The former is easily cleaned; the latter easily stained. Mao says she feels this stain. She is angry and ashamed.

"Everybody, you know, none of us are perfect and I also feel it's my fault because I wanted to go to the wedding," Mao says.

For now at least, Mao says she can't go home. "I do not dare to think about the future," she says.

Cambodian parliament approves Chinese firms to build four dams

People's Daily Online
January 01, 2009

The Cambodian National Assembly (NA) has approved deals with two Chinese companies on Tuesday for construction of four hydro-electric dams in Koh Kong province, national media said on Thursday.

The investment stands at more than 1 billion U.S. dollars in total, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily quoted Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, as saying.

"We will have enough electricity to use in the whole country by2014. All kinds of people, businessmen and investors, will be at ease after we have sufficient electricity," he said.

NA approved a deal of 540 million U.S. dollars for two dams with China National Heavy Metal Machinery, and a deal of 495 million U.S. dollars for the other two dams with the Michelle Corporation, also a Chinese firm, he said.

Construction should start in late 2009 or early 2010, and the power will be sold to the Cambodian government at handsome prices, he added.


Royal Decrees approve three Cambodian municipalities to turn into provinces

People's Daily Online
January 01, 2009

Pailin, Sihanoukville and Kep municipalities have been re-designated as Cambodia's newest provinces, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily on Thursday quoted recent Royal Decrees as saying.

Cambodia now has 23 provinces in all with one municipality, namely Phnom Penh, it said.

Earlier reports in local media said that the re-designation aimed at facilitating the forthcoming Commune Councils Election this year, or the local poll of the kingdom, to elect village and commune heads.

With the title of province, the people in these three areas can enjoy wider political participation, said local media.

The election will start on May 17.