Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Sihanouk court hears more cases against Russian paedophile

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

One case against twice-convicted paedophile being reheard while another court case's verdict set to be delivered for first time.

A PREAH Sihanouk provincial court has announced it will deliver rulings today in two retrial cases against Russian businessman Alexander Trofimov.

Trofimov's defence lawyer, Saing Vannak, told the Post that the court heard closing statements from both sides Monday.

Chan Chamroeun, an official from local rights group Adhoc who has followed the case, said the defendant as well as most of the alleged victims and witnesses were present during the hearing.

The 41-year-old former chairman of Koh Puos Investment Group was arrested in 2007 and was handed a 13-year sentence in his first trial in March last year for charges involving a 13-year-old girl - a term that was reduced to seven years by an appeals court last October.

But Trofimov's lawyers demanded a retrial, arguing that the failure of authorities to deliver the defendant to the court during proceedings comprised the trial's legitimacy.

After three failed attempts to get the businessman and an attorney into court last year, the Sihanoukville provincial court on November 27 sentenced Trofimov to eight years imprisonment on one of two counts of purchasing sex from a minor, brought by a single victim.

Two Cambodian women, Tit Srey Mom and So Sina, were also each given eight-year prison terms.

The second count at the trial involved 17 victims but was suspended pending investigation.

The March 2007 verdict is being reheard and a verdict on the second count from the November 2008 trial is being delivered for the first time.

The verdict was rejected by Trofimov's lawyers, saying he was absent during the trial and demanded a retrial.

The presiding judges on the cases, Taing Sunlay and Kim Eng, could not be reached for comment Monday.

After years of being seen as a haven for sexual predators, Cambodia in 2003 began a campaign to clean up its image by targeting paedophiles and other sex offenders, arresting dozens of foreigners.

Guarding Cambodia's giant turtles

Photo by: Brendan Brady
A Kratie resident Ken Vy excavates a Cantor's giant turtle nest for wildlife officials as part of a program that pays local villagers to preserve nesting sites of the endangered species.

The Giant turtles' chomping ground
The Cantor's habitat lies mostly within a 55-kilometre stretch of the Mekong in northeastern Cambodia between the cities of Kratie and Stung Treng, where scientists have noted the richness of the natural environment. In a report released Thursday, the WWF said the "near-pristine region of tall riverine forests, waterways and island archipelagos" is a sanctuary for the critically engandered Irrawady dolphin and other vulnerable fauna populations, a total of 36 of which are listed as threatened under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The area used to be one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge until as late as 1998. Now, it is rapidly shrinking as peace is leading to migration of communities to areas previously off limits due to security concerns, the group said. The two dams proposed for just outside the unique strip would "massively disrupt the delicately balanced ecosystems in the area", it said. WWF has petitioned the government to designate the area as protected.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Sambor district, kratieWildlife officials use cash to entice Mekong residents in northeastern Cambodia to protect nesting grounds of Cantor's soft-shell turtles, believed extinct just two years ago.

LAST year, Mekong resident Su Pie sold the delicate eggs he unearthed to Chinese miners working in the area, banking around US$20. This year, he stands to make exponentially more by not laying a hand on any nests he discovers, as well as ensuring no one else does either.

The 59-year-old fisherman and farmer, whose home lies along the Mekong in a district called Sambor, about an hour from the city of Kratie, stands along the banks of the river with his wife and three children as he explains to Conservation International (CI) officials his mixed success this year in contributing to their project.

The good news was he found two nests. The bad news was he ate the eggs from one after he suspected it would be discovered by other local fishermen, given its visible location.

The conservation officials cringe as they hear this. They can count the number of meals that could push Cambodia's population of the endangered Cantor's giant soft-shell turtle to extinction. But the program employing locals to protect nests is in its first year, and they expected it to develop with hitches.

Cantor's can grow up to two metres in length and reach weights of more than 50 kilograms. The turtle's flat, soft shell is covered with rubbery skin and has been valued for use in post-natal traditional Khmer cures.

In 2007, wildlife experts found the super-sized freshwater turtle species, which was previously believed to have vanished from Cambodia. Until the discovery in May that year of an 11-kilogram female by a scientist working for the government and the global conservation group WWF - including her nesting grounds and hatchlings - the Cantor's turtle was believed by officials to exist only in very small numbers in Laos, and many feared the animal's extinction was imminent.

Since then, the wildlife groups planned to employ local villagers to protect the species' breeding grounds.

"I like helping protect them, but if I didn't get money, I would always take half of them and leave the other half," the fisherman said. "Other fishermen come around looking for eggs, also, so it can be difficult to do what I'm asked."

After verifying the location of the preserved nest, the conservation officials pay Su Pie $30 on the spot. The fisherman receives a net, which he is instructed to place over the nest to protect it from natural predators, such as monitor lizards, so the baby turtles can be caught and studied before they are released by the CI team, which will base itself in the area as the hatching period nears.

"Thirty dollars for finding the nest, plus $2 a day from the time we see the nest until it hatches, plus $2 per hatched egg," explained the program's head monitor, Kim Chamnan. Nests typically hold 20 to 50 eggs, which take more than 60 days to hatch.

"He can make a lot more by cooperating with us. He'll get more than $200 for this nest if they hatch," said Kim Chamnan.

Last year, CI officials were able to preserve four nests and held onto twelve hatchlings for a "Head-Start" program in which they allow them to mature in captivity before they are released at a size large enough to overwhelm any would-be natural predators.

A fragile youth

Sightings of adult Cantor's are rare, as they hug the muddy river bottom. Sonar is required to track the turtles, given the depths of as much as 40 metres they tend to inhabit.

"It buries itself in the sand and spends 95 percent of its time completely hidden out of sight with just its eyes and nose showing," said David Emmett, a wildlife biologist for CI based in Cambodia. "It feeds from this position, striking at fish and crabs."

But the creatures are especially vulnerable at birth as the mother, while armed with a bone-crunching bite, does not hang around the nest.

Kea Ratha, a graduate student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh whose research has centred on the feeding behaviour of hatchling Cantor's, says their high-mortality rate during pre-natal stages and as newborns places a premium on efforts to protect their nesting sites.

But "besides the Conservation International project, nothing is being done to protect this species, which faces many threats", she said.

Emmett says officials have not yet been able to survey the Cantor's population in Cambodia, but estimated it was on the decline, with only around a hundred breeding adults.

"Adults are being caught and sold, and nests are plundered by fisherman for eggs. The population is surely declining, but because they are capable of laying so many eggs - up to 50 in one nest - the population could recover very fast if the nests are protected."

Locals search for nests by looking for tracks from the mother. They poke a stick into the sand, and if it gives easily, it is a sign eggs may lie below.

Cambodian palettes are not especially drawn to turtle eggs, says Kim Chamnan, unlike the Chinese, for whom turtle holds a potent combined culinary and medicinal allure.

At rural markets in the area, an egg goes for around 1,500 riels (US$0.37 cents), so a nest's bounty is not likely to land much more than ten dollars. But that cash is still very attractive to local fishermen who are not aware of the conservation officials' much larger offer.

Trawling along the river in a thin, wooden vessel, the two-man Conservation International team approaches residents they see on or along the river, giving them a graphic laminated handout with a picture of a turtle nesting site and a number to call should they spot one. The hefty cash rewards get the attention of local residents, but it will take time for the campaign to spread awareness. In the meantime, officials will continue to find dug-up nests, like the handful spotted along the river's banks during the day's patrol.

Money talks

Like most of the riverine inhabitants, 31-year-old Ken Vy fishes and farms for a living. But he has stood out to Conservation International officials for his ability to sniff out nests.

Last year, he was informed of the project towards the end of the hatching season, so he got a late start, spotting one nest for which he was rewarded with a total of $200.

"I had already eaten or sold the eggs from two nests. I just came here to walk my cattle, and while I was here, I would look for nests," he said.

But with hundreds of dollars hanging in the balance, he now dedicates part of his time to searching for nests.

"Last night, I came at four in the morning with a headlamp to go searching. If I waited until later in the morning, I was afraid other fisherman would see me and search here, too."

He has staked out two nests on a small sand bank near his home. "I come here a few times every day to protect the nests, to make sure no one else is stealing the eggs."

In the presence of officials from the capital soliciting his help, Ken Vy becomes animated as he talks about his laborious routine to keep would-be egg snatchers at bay.

But he was clear it was the handsome cash reward that motivated him to rise in the dark hours of morning to hunt for nests he can protect - and the pragmatism of the wildlife team in understanding this could be the thrust behind the program's success if the endangered species is to be protected.

$50,000 gold heist leaves one wounded, many scared: Police

Yet Phalla, the robbed money exchanger, said business would continue. "But I'm concerned about being robbed again. I will request that the market chief strengthens security."

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Armed robbers in Pailin made off with gold and currency; now market vendors are saying they need beefed-up security to keep working.

POLICE said they are looking for three armed robbers who stole US$50,000 worth of merchandise from a gold shop and 20,000 Thai baht ($573) from a currency exchange stand in a Pailin province market Sunday afternoon, shooting the niece of the gold seller in the process.

Ourn Rin, police chief for Pailin district, said the robbers entered Samaki Market at noon on Sunday and fired three warning shots in the air in an attempt to get the gold seller to flee. When he did not do so, a struggle ensued and the owner's niece was shot in the back.

" we are not prepared to go back to start business at the market. "

"She was not seriously wounded and is being treated at a hospital," Ourn Rin said.

The robbers fled with the gold and money on a motorbike, he said.

Leng Chantha, the gold seller who was robbed, claimed the police had underestimated the value of the gold stolen from his stand, saying the real value was $100,000.

Ourn Rin said police saw the robbers in a nearby forest and were attempting to surround and arrest them. As of Monday afternoon they had not been caught.

Chan Chhay, provincial police chief, said Monday that more than 100 military police officers, and soldiers had been deployed to look for the robbers with some being stationed on main roads in the province and others surveying local residents to determine the robbers' identities.

Leng Chantha did not open his stand Monday, citing his fear of the attackers. "My wife and I are panicked," he said. "We have lost a large amount of gold and we are not prepared to go back to start business at the market."

Improve market security

Yet Phalla, the money exchanger who was robbed, returned to the market, though she expressed concern for the vendors' security.

Ourn Rin said there was only a handful of market police who worked at Samaki Market and noted that they are not allowed to carry guns.

"That's why the robbers are not afraid to rob the place," he said. "The robbery on Sunday showed us that we need to strengthen security at the market. I might request to have rifles for the market police to secure the safety of the vendors."

He said the robbery was the first of the year to happen in the province.

Duch trial a 'test case' for tribunal

Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch at a preliminary meeting at the court last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins and Neth Pheaktra
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Proceedings will mark the first time the defence and prosecution will meet in the trial chambers, and one observer says both sides will have to 'feel their way' through the unproven legal tangle.

THE first of what is likely to be five trials conducted by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, that of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, is largely seen as a test case for the UN-backed court, one legal observer said Monday as officials announced the opening date for the proceedings.

An initial public hearing for the 66-year-old - the first step in the trial phase of proceedings against him - scheduled to open February 17.

The trial marks a milestone for the tribunal and is the end result of more than a decade of legal wrangling by the United Nations and government over how best to prosecute crimes committed during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime.

While setting a trial is tangible progress, the process has been fraught with obstacles, and the tribunal today remains unproven, Michelle Staggs Kelsall, deputy director of the Asian International Justice Initiative at the monitoring group the East-West Centre, told the Post Monday.

"This is very much a test case in how proceedings will be run, which will establish how the trial chamber is going to function and the dynamics between the parties," she said, adding that trial will likely set a precedent for future proceedings.

Kaing Guek Eav, who is more commonly known by his revolutionary name Duch, in one of five former regime leaders detained by the tribunal and is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Staggs Kelsall said as the first trial of the experimental hybrid court, Duch's could still face further delays as both the prosecution and defence find their stride.

"It's going to be the first time the trial chamber has convened for a full trial. Lots of things are going to be novel about the proceedings, such as the involvement of victims as participants, so they will very much be feeling their way through it and expecting the unexpected," Staggs Kelsall said.

"As with every initial hearing, there may be judicial challenges by the prosecutor or defence that may delay actual testimonies .... In that sense, the trial proper might be delayed."

‘I could not pardon him'

For one the few remaining Tuol Sleng survivors, Duch's trial is hoped to bring closure to years of agony spent struggling with the memories of his time in Tuol Sleng.

Bou Meng is one of only 14 inmates thought to have survived the prison and, like fellow inmate Vann Nath, was kept alive for his artistic abilities.

During a court-ordered tour of Tuol Sleng and the Choeung Ek killing fields last year, he came face-to-face with his former jailer.

"Duch and I talked face to face. He prayed and apologised to me, but I did not pray back. I told to him that I could not pardon him yet," Bou Meng said told the Post.

"Let the tribunal sentence him if he has bad karma," he said. "I have waited for this hearing day for a long time and am satisfied to hear that it will start," he added.

Parade to mark slain unionist

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Organisers still waiting for municipal approval.

THE Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) on Monday issued a press release calling for public participation in a commemorative parade scheduled for January 22, marking the day in 2004 that union leader Chea Vichea was killed in Phnom Penh.

"Chea Vichea did so much work for our nation, particularly by demanding more freedom and better conditions for the Kingdom's workers," Rong Chhun, president of the CCU, said in the press release.

He said Chea Vichea remains a potent symbol for many Cambodians, who honour his memory each year for sacrificing his life for the nation.

"We informed municipal authorities a week ago of our intention to hold this ceremony, but they have not yet responded. But we plan to go ahead with the event," said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the brother of Chea Vichea.

Chea Mony said he expected about 300 people, including civil society groups and some politicians, to participate in the parade.

The event will start at the headquarters of the trade union in Phnom Penh's Boeung Keng Kang 3 district and end at the site of Chea Vichea's assassination near Langka pagoda, the press release stated.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment on Monday, but Deputy Governor Pa Socheatevong said he could not provide details about whether the event would be approved by authorities.

The two men convicted of Chea Vichea's murder have been released pending a retrial.

Obama spurs reform hopes

Photo by: Eleanor Ainge Roy
An American Obama supporter cheers news of his election at Phnom Penh's FCC during last November's presidential election.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio And Neth Pheaktra
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Barack Obama's impending inauguration has stoked expectations of change in Cambodia, but analysts say familiar aims are likely to head the US agenda.

AS America's first black president-elect prepares to take office in Washington, DC, embassy sources and local analysts say US policy towards Cambodia will remain constant, despite local hopes that it will take on a more activist orientation.

In a January 12 speech, US Charge d'Affairs Piper Campbell said the inauguration of Barack Obama would likely have little effect on US-Cambodia relations, saying that many of the issues that Cambodia faces - such as poverty and the weak rule of law - required stable, long-term solutions.

She said Washington's aims were to see Cambodia become a country that is "domestically stable", where government is "democratic and just", and where "a healthy economy raises more people out of poverty and provides an opportunity for business".

But like the American electorate, many of whom have projected their hopes of political change on Obama, some Cambodians hope the US will help push Cambodia's government in a more accountable direction.

"Cambodian people believe that the United States of America will become a guarantor of security, peace and democratic development throughout the world," said Sourn Sereyratha of the US-based Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity, in a Saturday letter to the president-elect.

"We urge [you] to take all means to... defend Cambodian people against the extreme human rights abuses by its own leaders."

Sam Rainsy Party Deputy Secretary General Mu Sochua was more sanguine, saying that US-Cambodia relations were unlikely to change radically, but that Obama's foreign policy team, headed by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, would usher in positive changes.

"We don't want to have unrealistic expectations about the Obama team," she said, but added that a hoped-for increase in US aid and foreign investment would contribute to the development of the country's democracy and human rights.

"If Obama understands that change starts with the promotion of human rights, I am confident [he] will realise this properly in Cambodia.

"Wayne Weightman of Democrats Abroad Cambodia, the local wing of the Democratic Party, said he could not comment on Obama's likely policy towards Cambodia, but said that the new president's investiture likely would lead to positive changes across the globe.

" Cambodia is not on the list of countries for which the US has any special attention. "

"We think that the incoming administration's foreign policy will be a significant improvement on [the Bush administration]," he said.

Political constraints

There are limits, however, to how far the new administration will be able pressure Phnom Penh on human rights issues, given that it requires the Royal Government's cooperation on high-profile American initiatives in areas such as counter-terrorism and human trafficking.

China's increasingly prominent investments in the Kingdom may also discourage Washington from taking a harder line on human rights, given Beijing rarely - if ever - attaches human rights clauses to its own aid and loan packages.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that he looked forward to a fruitful relationship with the new US administration, saying that "the US-Cambodian relationship had been improving a lot, and we hope that the trend will continue for the benefit of both countries".

He added that the government hoped the US administration would "restore its image as a peacemaker and [establish] good relationships with the outside world".

Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, said that Cambodia's stability - in contrast to the upheavals of the past - would continue to promote a cautious US policy towards Cambodia.

"It doesn't matter who is in the White House," said Chea Vannath. "Cambodia is not Zimbabwe. Cambodia is not on the list of countries for which the US has any special attention.

"She added that American agencies such as USAID, which were not directly funded through the executive branch, would not come under the personal attention of the new president, whatever his intentions.

"The world has so many troubles, and Cambodia looks quiet and stable from the White House's point of view. I don't see any change," she said.

Obama will be sworn in as president tonight at midnight, Cambodian time.

Legal officials set to rotate

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thomas Gam Nielsen and Chrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

TWENTY judges and prosecutors will be moved as part of the annual rotation of court jurists, Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana said Monday, adding that the cost of re-housing judges was a concern.

While government officials and rights advocates agree the rotation system can fight corruption by preventing people from building entrenched networks, they also accept that it is expensive for the jurists to move every fourth year, since some will have to maintain households in two places without extra pay.

"It is positive that they are moving," said Thun Saray, director of local rights group Adhoc, adding that the rotation "could lead to corruption, since they may have double expenses while their salary remains the same".

Ang Vong Vathana agreed that maintaining second households was a problem of the system but said that benefits outweighed the drawbacks. "We are always trying to improve the judicial system," he told the Post.

Thun Saray said the solution could be to provide them with extra income or new houses.

The justice minister and Hanrot Raken, a member of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, declined to reveal the names of any judges or prosecutors undergoing rotation.

Cambodia all set for stock exchange

The International Monetary Fund said Cambodia’s economy may grow 4.75 percent this year, which would be the slowest since 1998

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cambodia, the second-poorest country in Southeast Asia, plans to complete the listing requirements for its first stock exchange by April in preparation for a December opening, a top exchange official said Monday.

“Everything is on schedule so far,” said Ming Bankosal, director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia (SECC), by phone from Phnom Penh. “We will finalize the issuing requirements by the end of the first quarter, and after that we will accept applications from companies.”

Cambodia, which abolished money under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago, is seeking to lure foreign funds as the global economic recession has led to drops in tourism, garment exports and commodity prices. The International Monetary Fund said the economy may grow 4.75 percent this year, which would be the slowest since 1998.

The government has targeted 20 companies to sell shares during the exchange’s first year of operation. They include Sokimex Group, the country’s biggest petroleum company, and Acleda Bank Plc., its largest bank, according to Kao Thach, head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s financial market division, last year.


“The starting date is not really the key issue,” said Douglas Clayton, chief executive officer of Leopard Capital, one of several private equity firms that plan to invest in companies and cash out through share sales in the local market. “I will not mind if it is delayed for another year because it might give them more time to get the regulations in order.”

Leopard Capital has raised about a quarter of the US$100 million it is targeting for a fund that closes at the end of March. Opportunities are rife for those with cash on hand who can benefit from falling prices, Clayton said.

The global financial crisis, which cut the value of stock markets in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam by at least half last year, has not deterred Cambodia from pressing forward with a stock exchange, Ming said. The SECC is in the process of developing tax breaks and other incentives for companies to list, he added.

“Now the US is in the process of recovery and this recovery can spread to the world,” Ming said. “We hope that in late 2009, everything will be okay.”

The listing requirements in Cambodia will likely be modeled on the Kosdaq, South Korea’s second stock market that was set up 12 years ago for small- and medium-sized firms as well as venture start-ups, according to Kao Thach. Companies seeking a Kosdaq listing need to be in business for at least three years with minimum paid-in capital of 500 million won (US$495,417) and debt-to-equity ratio of less than 150 percent of the industry mean.

More Groups Ready for Inauguration

By Taing Sarada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
19 January 2009

Cambodian embassy officials in Washington say they won’t hold a special event for the inauguration of president-elect Barack Obama, but they have been invited to Tuesday’s event.

“The Cambodian Embassy, like the representatives all of the countries’ embassies based in the US, has been invited by the US State Department to join president Obama’s inauguration,” said Nay Meng Eang, deputy chief of mission at the Cambodian Embassy.

Cambodia is currently without an ambassador in Washington, following the exit of Ek Sereywath in late 2008. Hem Heng, the incoming ambassador, has yet to be recognized.

“We haven’t seen any confirmation yet,” Nay Meng Eang said.

Cambodian Embassy officials have also requested the establishment of a military attaché with the US, as well as a consulate office in Lowell, Mass., where many Cambodians live, but they have not received responses, he said.

Meanwhile, the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, an advocacy group based in New Jersey, said it had sent a letter of congratulations to the incoming president.

Attached to the letter was an eight-page report on restrictions by the Vietnamese government against members of the Khmer Krom minority there, including the persecution of liberty, human rights and religion, said Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the group, who met with State Department officials last week.

“I think the new government will be able to continue the cooperation from [George W. Bush] administration’s work,” he said. “We strongly hope that the relationship between the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation and Obama’s administration will comprehensively continue.”

Villagers Say Military Police Halt Protest

By VOA Khmer Stringers
Original reports from Phnom Penh
19 January 2009

Cambodian military police prevented a protest of villagers near the Kandal provincial home of Prime Minister Hun Sen early Monday, following a shooting incident Friday.

Nearly 40 representatives of villagers from Kandal Stung district, Kandal province, who are embroiled in a land dispute with the Heng Akphiwath Company, amassed near Hun Sen’s home, but military police dispersed them and ordered them to return home, human rights officials said.

“In the morning, a lot of villagers representing 292 families tried to hold a protest against Heng Akphiwath, but military policed armed [with weapons] and electric batons tried to block them and push them away,” said one protester, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The military police ordered villagers to stay in their homes or register with police if they planned to leave, the protester said.

Kandal Governor Chhun Sirun denied Monday that military police had blocked a protest.

“I went there this morning, but I did not see any protesters,” he said.

The attempted protest follows a shooting Friday in Kandal Stung, where villagers say military police are aiding Heng Akphiwath in a land grab.

Two men were injured by shots fired by the military police and remain in Meanchey hospital, in Takmao district, while another eight people were injured in ensuing violence.

One man was knocked unconscious, but was recovering at home Monday. Another man was arrested Friday, but was released on Sunday, after he gave $30 to military police, said Am Samath, an investigator for the rights group Licadho.

Officials from Heng Akphiwath Company declined to comment Monday.

Chhun Sirun said the military had fired in self defense, as villagers threatened them with knives and axes. The military police had not fired directly at villagers, but had fired at the ground, the wounded hurt by shrapnel, he said.

He said the incident was “small,” and military police had received reprimands from their commanders, he said.

Monday’s protest was only one among several this week: villagers in the provinces of Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampot also protesting land disputes.

Initial Hearing Set for Start of Duch Trial

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
19 January 2009

An initial hearing for jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch will be scheduled for Feb. 17, leading to the first-ever trial of the ongoing tribunal, officials announced Monday.

On that date, the tribunal will hold a hearing on witnesses and other participants of the trial, as well as evidence, but the full trial is not likely to begin until March, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said.

“The initial hearing is the beginning of the official trial, and it will respond to the awaiting families and victims of Democratic Kampuchea,” Reach Sambath said, referring to the Khmer Rouge by its political moniker.

The Trial Chamber of the courts will decide the schedule for the full trial of Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, following the February hearing, Reach Sambath said.

“We think it’s a welcome development, and people in general in Cambodia have been waiting a long time for justice to be served,” US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said. “We hope that from this point on the process will move fairly quickly.”

For Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, the announcement did not yet signal the justice sought by victims of regime.

“This news does not demonstrate that justice has arrived,” Youk Chhang said. “It is a small step in the enormous investment of time and budget, but at least it has started and it demonstrates that the court works.”

The shoemaker of kings and the disabled

Trinh Ngoc in his shop at Ho Chi Minh City’s 151/1 Tran Dinh Xu Street.

January 20, 2009

Trinh Ngoc remembers making shoes for King Norodom Sihanouk and almost every other member of the Cambodian Norodom and Sisowath royal families.

“The King cares a lot about fashion and buys French and Italian shoes every time he goes overseas,” Ngoc said. “If he can’t find a pair that fit him, the King brings me the design and asks me to make them.”

The mild-mannered shoemaker, now in his 70s, is considered one of the best in Ho Chi Minh City, where he started anew in 1970 after leaving Cambodia because of the political changes there.

At age 13, Ngoc moved to Phnom Penh with his family. He began to learn cobbling at 15 at the family factory and when he was 21, he opened his own shoe shop.

The shop received even more customers than the French shop on the opposite street.

Sometimes, he had to study the traditional footwear at Cambodian museums to make the King and Queen’s shoes for national festivals or greeting foreign guests. He also studied a four year remote course in shoemaking through a French school, where he learnt about foot structure to make more comfortable shoes.

When he returned to HCMC, Ngoc began consigning his shoes at some of the city’s top outlets such as the Tax Shopping Center and the Crystal Palace Center in District 1.

But those centers charged three times more than he did at his own shop on Phat Diem Street, now Tran Dinh Xu, and customers followed him there.

He became known by leading officials, celebrities, the disabled and foreign diplomats.

Ngoc said a good shoemaker has to master every stage of the shoemaking process because they are all closely related to each other.

He considers his shoes not as a product but a piece of art. According to Ngoc, “a creative mind, a passion for the job, the ability to observe and skillful hands” make a successful shoemaker.

One needs “to know what fashion comes next,” including the design, color and type of leather, to be successful in the market, he added.

He cooperates with local leather suppliers including Junly factory in Phnom Penh and Vinada factory in Vietnam, which produces the leather that Ngoc recommends and allows him to use it six months before marketing it.

Ngoc also makes shoes for people with deformed legs.

Le Nam, who has one leg 10 centimeters shorter than the other, said he’s very grateful to Ngoc.

“When I met him, it was like a drowning person catching a lifebuoy,” said Nam, who had tried many other shoemakers before discovering Ngoc.

He said Ngoc’s shoes not only helped him find a job but also strengthened his legs.

Ngoc has turned down several offers by foreign shoes enterprises, including one by a Taiwanese company that offered him a high salary and more than US$80,000 worth of shares just to train workers.

“I would have become very rich but I wouldn’t have been able to interact with customers,” he said. “Money can hardly buy you the feelings you have when you see customers pleased with your own shoes.”

Cambodia's first Khmer Rouge trial to start mid-February

Duch has been in custody since 1999 for his role at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation during the Khmer Rouge's brutal regime in 1975-1979

Chart showing the mental health statistics for Cambodia

'Duch' the former chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison during the Khmer Rouge regime

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal on Monday officially set February 17 as the start date for the long-awaited first trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of atrocities in the 1970s.

Court documents said the hearing for former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav -- better known as Duch -- will be for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention as well as premeditated murder and torture.

Duch, 66, will be the first leader of Cambodia's brutal 1975-1979 communist regime to stand trial at the tribunal, an initial step towards justice for the up to two million people who died under Khmer Rouge rule.

He will be tried for "his acts or omissions in Phnom Penh and within the territory of Cambodia between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979," said the court documents, released to the media on Monday.

Duch was indicted last year for allegedly overseeing the torture and extermination of more than 12,000 men, women and children when he headed Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21.

"This is what we have been waiting for for so long," said Tuol Sleng survivor Vann Nath, who made it through years in the prison because he was put to work painting pictures that celebrated the regime.

"Now we know the clear date for the trial. And we hope that we will know the truth that we have been waiting 30 years for," added Vann Nath.

A mathematics teacher who became the Khmer Rouge's torturer-in-chief, Duch has been in prison since 1999 for his role at Tuol Sleng. He was formally transferred to the tribunal in July 2007.

Thousands of inmates were taken from the centre he ran for execution at Choeung Ek, now infamously known as the Killing Fields.

The indictment last August gave a detailed breakdown of the horrific conditions at Tuol Sleng and Duch's alleged role in the atrocities, saying that every prisoner who arrived there was destined for execution.

"Duch personally tortured or mistreated detainees at S-21 on a number of separate occasions and through a variety of means," the indictment said.

Chum Mey, another survivor of Tuol Sleng who was spared because he was put to use repairing car engines, called Monday's announcement "another step toward justice."

"I want Duch to speak about the truth of the regime and where he got the order to kill the people," Chum Mey said.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation and overwork as the regime emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge a communist utopia.

Duch is one of five Khmer Rouge leaders who have been detained by the court for their alleged roles in the regime.

Also in detention awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was the minister of social affairs.

Established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the long-stalled tribunal has met controversy as it seeks to prosecute crimes committed 30 years ago by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

At least two of the top Cambodian tribunal officials have been accused of corruption by some defence lawyers in connection with an alleged scheme where local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia which chronicles Khmer Rouge crimes, said the court needed to do better.

"Many have feelings of reservation. It's been three years and over 50 million dollars, and now we have a small case coming up," Youk Chhang said.

"It's just a beginning -- a little tiny light in the tunnel," he added.

The tribunal received a boost earlier this month when Japan's foreign minister pledged funding of 21 million dollars during a visit to Cambodia.

New species hotspot in remote Cambodian Mekong

Lepidopterology 19 January 2009

Cantor's Giant softshell turtle, thought to be extinct in Cambodia since 2003 has been rediscovered in a section of the Mekong River almost untouched by humans.

The discovery was one of a raft of species new to the region, 24 in all, and a previously unknown 'corpse plant' notable for emitting an odour of decaying flesh.

The study area is home to a near-pristine region of tall riverine forests, waterways and island archipelagos, and is described by scientists as including one of the last suitable freshwater habitat for the critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin.

The findings are the result of a series of surveys jointly conducted by WWF Cambodia, the Fisheries Administration (FiA) and Forestry Administration (FA) of the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) in 2006/7.

The most exciting area surveyed was a 55 kilometre stretch of river located in north-eastern Cambodia, referred to as the 'Central Section,' which is a sanctuary for many vulnerable fauna populations, 36 of which are listed as threatened under the IUCN Red List.

'Unlike many other mainstream sections of the Mekong in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, this particular part of the river remains relatively untouched by human activities,' said Richard Zanre, WWF Freshwater Program Manager. This region, he added, used to be one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge and was off-limits to local and foreign agencies until as late as 1998.

However, the 'Central Section' is rapidly shrinking. Cambodia's new era of peace is leading to migration of communities to areas previously off-limits due to security concerns.

Unregulated hunting, fishing and logging are the greatest threats to the area as the number of settlers to the region has increased rapidly in the previous decade. Local communities are already reporting that catches of fish, turtles, large mammals and lizards are already declining.

Future threats may arise from further infrastructural development of the region, such as dam and road construction. Two dams have been proposed in the study area, just outside the Central Section, and would massively disrupt the delicately balanced ecosystems in the area.

Like many developing countries, Cambodia must balance the needs of a growing population with conservation. Fortunately, the government is sympathetic to these concerns;

'The Royal Government of Cambodia recognises the importance of maintaining the Mekong's resources for biodiversity, national food security and development, and reflect this need in the targets of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan of 2002 and Cambodia's Millennium Development Goals,' said Seng Teak, WWF Country Director.

'Documenting Mekong's biodiversity and natural resources is a critical first step is to preserving them.'

Having worked with the government closely on these surveys, WWF Cambodia has sought to get the 'Central Section' designated as a special management site, ensuring that the region's plant and animal life are integrated into the governments national biodiversity strategy and afforded adequate protection.

WWF would like to see all lands in the central section divided into two zones - one a protective zone, and the other a multiple use zone that would help to support livelihoods of local communities.

Coming so shortly after the discovery of over one thousand new species in the Mekong River basin from 1997 to 2007, this study has proved the value of protecting the region, while also serving as an important contribution to the mapping of Cambodia's biological diversity, key to the formulating of effective management programs in the area.

Source: WWF

Vietnam prioritizes boosting ties with Cambodia

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vietnam accords top priority to developing relations with neighboring Cambodia, Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh said Monday.

Manh welcomed the Chairman of Cambodia’s National Assembly Heng Samrin to Hanoi, saying that the traditional friendship, comprehensive cooperation and time-honored relations between the two countries should be preserved and passed onto the next generation.

The Party leader congratulated Samrin on his re-election as National Assembly chairman as well as Cambodia’s achievements.

He also said he hoped that the Cambodian people, under the reign of King Norodom Sihamoni and the leadership of the Senate, the National Assembly and the Royal Government would continue to reap the rewards of building a peaceful, independent, and prosperous country.

The Cambodian NA Chairman thanked the Vietnamese Party, State and people for helping rid Cambodia of its genocidal regime.

He said he hoped to further develop the traditional relationship his nation enjoys with Vietnam.
President Nguyen Minh Triet also welcomed the official visit by the Cambodian statesman, extending his regards and wishes for good health to King Norodom Sihamoni, King Father Norodom Sihanouk, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath and other Cambodian leaders.

State President receives Cambodian NA chairman

VOV News

The Party, State and people of Vietnam want to foster long-lasting relations of mutual trust with Cambodia, said President Nguyen minh Triet while receiving Heng Samrin, Chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly, in Hanoi on January 19.

“Just as both countries stood side by side with each other during their struggle for national liberation, so should present-day generations promote solidarity and help each other to develop,” said Mr Triet.

He welcomed Chairman Heng Samrin’s visit which he believed will help to further strengthen the traditional friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation between the two countries.

He expressed his pleasure at the strong development in bilateral ites and congratulated Cambodia on its important achievements in recent times.

He extended his best regards to King Norodom Sihamoni, former King Ronodom Sihanouk and former Queen Monineath Sihanouk and other Cambodian leaders.

For his part, Chairman Heng Samrin thanked the Vietnamese Party, State and people for providing valuable assistance and heart-felt support to the Cambodian people during their past struggle for national liberation and the current process of national construction and development.

“The Cambodian people will never forget great sacrifices by the Vietnamese volunteer soldiers to help them escape the dark days of the genocidal regime,” said Heng Samrin.

Thailand-Cambodia Border Crisis

Kashmir Watch, Jan 19
By Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

(Important briefs: In 1962, International court awards temple to Cambodia or Kampuchea, but surrounding land remains undesignated; 1970s-1990s: Khmer Rouge guerrillas occupy site; 2001-2002: Thai troops block access over water row; July 2008: Unesco lists temple as a World Heritage Site; July 2008: Thai FM quits after court rules he violated constitution for backing Cambodia's Unesco bid; July 2008: Both sides move troops to temple area; August 2008: Troops withdrawn after high-level talks; October 2008: Fighting erupts around temple area).

Even as the domestic crisis is still looming large in Thailand, there have been some rays of light over resolving the border crisis with its neighbor Cambodia. Thailand and Cambodia have at long last agreed to resolve a border dispute peacefully "for the sake of their neighborliness. More than 1,000 troops have been engaged in a stand-off at the ancient site last year for over month. Tensions have recently been rekindled, and last week erupted into open combat. Three Cambodian and one Thai soldier died in exchanges of fire. Several Cambodian soldiers have been killed recently in an exchange of gunfire with Thai troops along a disputed section of their border. The clash, near the ancient Preah Vihear temple, has prompted Thailand to urge its nationals to leave Cambodia. Tension has been high since July, when hundreds of soldiers on both sides faced off metres apart. Both sides have said they want to find a peaceful solution and will hold talks to discuss the conflict. Accordingly, only a small contingent from each side would remain at Preah Vihear temple.

Senior military officials on both sides echoed the pledge to reduce tensions as they met in Siem Reap in northern Cambodia last year. Both are sides are "committed to exercising their utmost restraint to avoid confrontation or armed clashes", said Cambodian regional army commander Maj Gen Chea Mon. The two sides had agreed to joint border patrols to defuse tensions, but, it appears, these have not materialized. Mutual suspicions are harming the efforts to find any credible solution.

Ancient dispute

The demarcation of land around Preah Vihear temple on the countries' border has never been clearly settled. Disputes between the two countries date back centuries when the Thai and Khmer monarchs fought each other for territory and power. The stand-off between the two countries centres on 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, which sits on a jungle-clad escarpment dividing the countries. The temple is only accessible from Thailand and the area around it is heavily mined - a legacy of Cambodia's long war against the Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The decision by Unesco in June to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site reignited lingering nationalist tensions over unresolved border disputes between the two countries.

The Preah Vihear temple has been the subject of often rancorous debate within Cambodia and Thailand and between the two nations since the very late 19th century. The temple was built during the 9th and 10th centuries by the Khmer Empire. As the empire reached its zenith and began a slow decline, the Ayutthaya Kingdom began its climb to the modern-day state of Thailand.

The recent 2008 Cambodian-Thai stand-off between Cambodia and Thailand began in June 2008 as the latest round of a century-long dispute involving the area surrouding the 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple, located between the Kantharalak district (amphoe) in the Sisaket province of Northeastern Thailand and the Choam Khsant district in the Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia. Thailand claims that demarcation has not yet been completed for the external parts of the area judged by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962. The dispute has now extended westwards to the Ta Moan Thom complex between the Thai Surin province and the Cambodian Oddar Meancheay province. Furthermore, historians and scholars are expecting that this stand-off will be extended further to the west to the 11th-century Sdok Kok Thom Temple, currently located in the boundary of the Aranyaprathet district in the Sa Kaeo province of eastern Thailand.

The decision by the UN in June2008 to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site reignited lingering tensions. An international court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but land surrounding it remains the subject of rival territorial claims. In 2003, the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh was torched by rioters angry over the alleged comments of a Thai actress who said that the Angkor Wat temple complex should be returned to Thailand.

Thailand and Cambodia both still claim they own the area around the temple, which recently became a Unesco World Heritage site. Officials from both countries have claimed the other side fired first. Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said the fighting was "small scale" and that he was committed to reaching a settlement over the issue with Cambodia, which he described as "a good neighbor". After fighting broke out, Thailand alerted air force jets and readied transport planes to evacuate Thai nationals from Cambodia.

There have routine fights on the borders over the disputed site. The military stand-off began in July when Cambodian troops detained three Thai protesters who had entered the site illegally. More than 1,000 soldiers from both countries moved into the area, digging trenches into the rough terrain around the temple. As the result of the recurring tensions, both keep enhancing the military budget at the cost of common men.

In August, military personnel agreed to withdraw most of the troops from the area but in early October, Cambodia claimed that Thai troops had returned. While Cambodia asked the Thai authorities to with forces form Cambodia, Thailand had denied that its troops ever entered Cambodian territory. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to turn the area into a "death zone" if the Thai troops did not withdraw. Such kinds of standoffs have been regular. The two countries have held several rounds of talks but have so far failed to reach a settlement.

Bilateral talks on the issue were held on 24 October 2008 on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe summit (Asem) in Beijing. Foreign ministers from the two countries spoke to reporters after the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Somchai Wongsawat, held talks earlier.. Active diplomacy has taken precedence over the usual angry rhetoric. "We are not just neighbors, we are very good friends indeed," Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornwiwat said. Hun Sen said the incident that already happened is not the kind that both countries want. It happened instantly. That was uncontrollable at the time." Sompong added that the two sides had been advised to avoid confrontation. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said: "What happened between us we have to solve peacefully, amicably, for the sake of our neighborliness."

Post Script: Forward Move

At long last Cambodia and Thailand have reached a deal to withdraw most of their troops from territory both claim at a hill-top temple, following an agreement reached at a meeting of military officers from the two countries on 14 October. The decision to resolve a border dispute Thai-Cambodia dispute peacefully remains a major break though but the implementation of the decision with follow-up actions is yet to begin quite earnestly.

Both Thailand and Cambodia are part of Asean and the member states, with a view to encouraging multi-trade mechanisms in the region, are also trying to help resolve the crisis. As the biggest Asean member country, Indonesia sees a role to help resolve conflict. AFP reported that Thailand and Cambodia on Thursday agreed to joint patrols of disputed border areas after deadly clashes, but made little progress toward resolving their long-standing territorial spat. Both countries, however, feel that there could be no quick resolution to the problem. It seems Thailand's domestic political situation could prove a distraction - and Cambodia indicated it was not expecting a swift resolution. Since the issue stirs intense nationalist passions on both sides, and an army recruitment drive in border areas has been over-subscribed, the issue calls for more strenuous efforts for reliable resolution.

The author is Delhi based Research Scholar in International Studies and can be reached at abdulruff_jnu@yahoo.com

Cambodia's Funcinpec, NRP agree to alliance for may election

People's Daily Online
January 19, 2009

Cambodia's two main royalist political parties, the Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), have decided to combine forces for May's district and provincial council elections, national media reported Monday.

Officials from the two parties met on Thursday to hold talks and agreed to assist each other in the upcoming election, in which commune councilors will vote to choose the first-ever district, provincial and municipal councils, Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay was quoted by the Cambodia Daily newspaper as saying.

"We have agreed to unite with each other during the council election on May 17," he told the newspaper.

He added that the two parties uniting to form a single party would make sense because the NRP was originally born out of Funcinpec.

NRP spokesman Suth Dina confirmed that the discussions between the two parties were held and the two parties would cooperate for the May election.

In late 2006, Prince Norodom Ranariddh formed the NRP shortly after being ousted from the presidency of Funcinpec, effectively splitting the royalist vote.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 25/01/2004: Chea Vichea's funeral.
© John Vink/ Magnum

From cambodia.ka-set.info

By Stéphanie Gée


January 22nd will mark the 5th anniversary of the assassination of charismatic trade unionist Chea Vichea. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, for their part, only just dodged their fate of yet spending another day behind bars. Both men were convicted of murder and condemned to spend 20 years in jail, but the highly unpopular verdict of their guilt left many unsatisfied. Lack of credible evidence... Trial marred with irregularities... On December 31st 2008, the Supreme Court ruled, much to the amazement of the audience and many, their release on bail. The American film-maker Bradley Cox took a deep interest in the case at its beginnings and set out to lead his own parallel investigation. For four years, he tracked down witnesses and clues and eventually put together a dossier in the form of the thriller-like documentary film “Who Killed Chea Vichea”, due for release this year and for which the film-maker still seeks financing. Bradley Cox gave an interview for Ka-set in Phnom Penh and goes back over the long and tiring making of the documentary.

Ka-set : What made you come to Cambodia?

Bradley Cox : Like a lot of people, I ended up here by accident. I was teaching a film course in Bhutan and when I finished it, I stayed a while around the Thai border, when someone asked me to come to Cambodia and make a documentary film, which I accepted, even though it turned out to be complete nonsense. This was just before the 2003 legislative elections and I thought the whole election process here was really interesting, much more than the ones in my country! So, I decided to do a documentary on that and managed to obtain funds from USAID [the United States Agency for International Development]. I happened to arrive one week before the January 29th Thai riots...

K7 : Why did you take such an interest in Chea Vichea's death and choose to make a documentary on that story?

BC : I met Chea Vichea because of my prior documentary on the 2003 elections. He had received a death threat a week before the elections. Vichea was the one guy who could gather huge demonstrations and he had threatened to do so if the opposition felt that the election did not play fair. I think that was the last taped interview he did. He was a really nice guy. It was hard not to respect this man in a country where you can pay a steep price for your actions.

Six months after that interview, he was killed. I was right there when it happened as I lived nearby. I arrived at the scene ten minutes after the shots, but back then, I didn't know that it would be the subject of my next documentary. It is only in August 2005, when they convicted the two men whom everybody knew were innocent, that it became clear to me. I wanted to make a documentary out of that story to show how these things happen.

K7 : How did you proceed to collect information on such a delicate question?

BC : The idea was to lead my own investigation into what happened, whether these men [Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun] were guilty or not. I tracked down their alibis and went to the places they were at [on the day of the assassination], talked to the people, some of whom were very scared to speak... Many did not want to talk in front of the camera, for obvious reasons. I tried to figure out what had really happened and got hold of documents I was not supposed to have.

I talked to the police unofficially, went to Finland to interview the wife of Chea Vichea [the country gave her political asylum shortly after her husband's death] who told me a lot about him and how their family had had to deal with living on constant threat. When she watched him leave home in the morning, she used to wonder whether he would be coming back at all. She told me how he was always very nervous, always looking left and right and could never really relax... I also went to France and spoke to a former [Cambodian] policeman who had very interesting things to say on how the police work - that will be in the film.

In addition, I talked to many judges, none of whom I ever managed to get to speak in front of a camera! But I wanted to show how the Court really works in Cambodia. There are many things that people like diplomats pretend not to know... With this film, it is going to be harder for them, hopefully, to dismiss certain things!

It is probably the most sensitive murder case since Piseth Pilika [a famous actress assassinated in July 1999]. This is why I spent a lot of time trying to get people to talk to me. I could see they wanted to speak , that they wanted people to know about it, but they did not want to be the ones who would get the blow back. That is understandable.

K7 : What does the documentary aim at showing?

BC : The basis is Chea Vichea's case but also a microcosm of some of the problems that continue to exist in Cambodia and make the people suffer. I think they have been let down by their leaders and deserve better. And you think the international community will be more helpful. But its representatives always talk about democracy, the rule of law... I don't think their actions follow their word: they are somehow passive accomplices to the impunity and corruption going on here. Maybe there is a bigger message here...

It was important for me to show that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were innocent and build some kind of national pressure on the Cambodian government to have them released, which is now done. And who knows why the Supreme Court decided that? It had nothing to do with the evidence, since it existed all along and they ignored it... There is a part of mystery here, although I wonder whether it might be linked with the death of Hok Lundy. It has to be acknowledged that a lot of pressure was put on that case. And an organisation such as LICADHO did not allow this case to die... I was very surprised about the ruling rendered on that day, like everyone else. On December 31st, I did not meet a single person at the Supreme Court who thought they would be released - and on that very day!

K7 : Do you now have to edit the end of your documentary?

BC : Yes, my film is going to be something different since now I don't have to prove that these men must be freed. When I go back to New York, I will have to rethink how to change my film. It is not going to have the same emergency it had when Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were still in jail. The story is finished but there is still in the film a bigger picture of what is ongoing in Cambodia. And this is why I still reckon the film will be relevant!

K7 : You have already directed “The Plastic Killers”, on the same topic. What is the difference between the two documentaries?

BC :
“The Plastic Killers” is a shorter version of “Who Killed Chea Vichea” but has less references in it as it was more geared towards Cambodians who already knew who Chea Vichea was and what he represented. I wanted the people to know about this case. I tried to release the film before Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun's appeal but the day after, it was banned [by the authorities]! The police went into the markets, took all the copies before the could even be spread far enough. That was really disappointing to me, and despite its availability on the Internet (in English and Khmer), Cambodians do not really have access to it. This is why making VCD copies made sense, I was not going to put this on the television! [laughs] Cambodians never had the chance to see it. I don't think we can still find copies of it in Cambodia, now.

K7 : Did the Cambodian authorities put pressure on you at any point?

BC :
No, but they knew what I was doing. I called Hok Lundy [former National Police chief who died in an accident in November 2008] to interview him about the Chea Vichea case. I think he laughed at my question... My investigation was no secret but I don't think they took it very seriously. Hok Lundy gave me permission to interview other high-ranking police officials but they wouldn't do it either!

However, I had two attempted break-ins at my house and as I had many video tapes with me, I figured I should move out of Cambodia: if they had been stolen, it would have meant the end of my whole film! […] I took the longest way possible to leave the country. I was very nervous, I had 500 tapes and if the Customs had had any idea of what was on them, they could have taken them! I decided to leave via Koh Kong, Cambodia's most porous exit. I could not take the chance to go to an airport.

K7 : Do you not fear the people you interviewed in your film might be in trouble once it is released?

BC :
That was a major concern indeed, so I decided to hide their identities in some way, by obscuring their faces, disguising their voices or only showing their shadow or hands so that they are not recognisable. The other people who had interesting things to say, including the eye-witness [in Chea Vichea's murder, who went to take refuge in the United States, are not in Cambodia any more.

K7 : Are you expecting your film to be prohibited in Cambodia?

BC :
I have the feeling that the Cambodian authorities will not be happy about it and that it will probably be prohibited. But I would like to give it away as much as possible. However, the last time we tried to do that in Cambodian markets, it did not work well!

K7 : Have you already presented the premiere of "Who killed Chea Vichea?"

BC :
Yes, I did show a pre-screening last November at the 21st International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam . I was surprised to see that people seemed interested in the film when there was no Asian person in the audience. They were very receptive to the Human rights aspect and the level of impunity.

K7 : Do you think this type of case sees people targeted as scapegoats or ideal culprits?

BC :
One thing about this case is its similarity with the Ros Sovannarith case. He was a member of the FTUWKC (Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, led by Chea Vichea) Steering Committee and was assassinated in 2004. They convicted a man for the murder and that case has many parallels to Chea Vichea's case. First, he was arrested by the same policemen from Tuol Kork who arrested Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun and there was obviously quite substantial evidence that the man was in Siem Reap on the day of the murder. Unfortunately, he did not receive any press and has been languishing in prison ever since... I think there was an appeal, but nobody even talked about it!

Once, I asked a policeman: 'When you set up these killings, where do you get the people from? He said that they basically needed two sets of people, either those who actually did the killing, and this is the easy part since they know they never get caught, or they try to find people who perhaps are not educated, poor, and maybe most importantly, who have a problem. In Chea Vichea's case, the one accused of killing had a problem: he had been fired from work for having stolen a lot of money. I think the one arrested for the murder of Ros Sovannarith was a drug user. These people, who already have difficulties with their families, fit the profile!

The first world screening of “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” will be broadcast by the American public television channel PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) during the course of the second semester of 2009.

Sacombank licensed to open branch in Phnom Penh

January 19, 2009

Nhan Dan- The National Bank of Cambodia has granted a license to the Saigon Thuong Tin Commercial Joint-Stock Bank (Sacombank) to open its branch in Phnom Penh, becoming the first Vietnamese commercial bank to have its branch in Cambodia.

Sacombank's Cambodia branch is scheduled to start operation in June 2009.

The inauguration of Sacombank's branch in Cambodia is expected to promote Vietnamese investment into Cambodia and boost bilateral trade between the two countries.

Cambodia to Finish Bourse Listing Details by April

From bloomberg.com

By Daniel Ten Kate

Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia, the second-poorest country in Southeast Asia, plans to complete the listing requirements for its first stock exchange by April in preparation for a December opening, a top exchange official said today.

“Everything is on schedule so far,” Ming Bankosal, director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia, said by phone from Phnom Penh. “We will finalize the issuing requirements by the end of the first quarter, and after that we’ll accept applications from companies.”

Cambodia, which abolished money under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago, is seeking to lure foreign funds as the global economic recession has led to drops in tourism, garment exports and commodity prices. The International Monetary Fund said the economy may grow 4.75 percent this year, which would be the slowest since 1998.

The government has targeted 20 companies to sell shares during the exchange’s first year of operation. They include Sokimex Group, the country’s biggest petroleum company, and Acleda Bank Plc, its largest bank, Kao Thach, head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s financial market division, said last year.


“The starting date is not really the key issue,” said Douglas Clayton, chief executive officer of Leopard Capital, one of several private equity firms that plans to invest in companies and cash out through share sales in the local market. “I won’t mind if it’s delayed for another year because it might give them more time to get the regulations in order.”

Leopard Capital has raised about a quarter of the $100 million it’s targeting for a fund that closes at the end of March. Opportunities are rife for those with cash on hand who can benefit from falling prices, Clayton said.

The global financial crisis, which cut the value of stock markets in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam by at least half last year, has not deterred Cambodia from pressing forward with a stock exchange, Ming said. The SECC is in the process of developing tax breaks and other incentives for companies to list, he added.

“Now the U.S. is in the process of recovery and this recovery can spread to the world,” Ming said. “We hope that in late 2009, everything will be okay.”

The listing requirements in Cambodia will likely be modeled on the Kosdaq, South Korea’s second stock market that was set up 12 years ago for small- and medium-sized firms as well as venture start-ups, according to Kao Thach. Companies seeking a Kosdaq listing need to be in business for at least three years with minimum paid-in capital of 500 million won ($495,417) and debt-to-equity ratio of less than 150 percent of the industry mean.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

Date set for first Khmer Rouge trial

Photo by: AFP
Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch, shown at Cambodia's war crimes court in this file photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins and Neth Pheaktra
Monday, 19 January 2009

The Khmer Rouge tribunal will open its first public trial on February 17, when Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav will face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with atrocities committed during the regime's 1975-79 rule, court officials said Monday.

Kaing Guek Eav, who is better known by his revolutionary name Duch, is accused of overseeing or taking part in the imprisonment and torture of as many as 16,000 men, women and children at Tuol Sleng, a former high school turned detention centre by the Khmer Rouge.

All but an estimated 14 of those inmates either died in Tuol Sleng or were executed at the Choeung Ek killing fields on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The 66-year-old former mathematics teacher is the only one of five regime leaders currently detained by the UN-backed court to admit his role in one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

For one of the few remaining Tuol Sleng survivors, the trial date is an enormous step towards Cambodia's reconciling with its brutal past after more than a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and government over the shape of the tribunal.

"We will know clearly the answer to why the Khmer Rouge killed their own people," said Vann Nath, whose artistic abilities kept him alive, as his captors put him to work painting portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

"We will know who the right person is and who the criminal is. I am ready to join this hearing," he told the Post Monday.

The proceedings will begin with a largely procedural initial public hearing next month during which the prosecution and defence may raise legal challenges, potentially delaying the trial proper, scheduled for sometime in March, legal experts say.

"This is a positive step in the right direction ... [but] as with every initial hearing, there may be judicial challenges by the prosecutor or defence that may delay actual testimonies ... in that sense the trial proper might be delayed," Michelle Staggs Kelsall, deputy director of the Asian International Justice Initiative at monitoring group the East-West Centre told the Post Monday.

Duch has been held in detention since his arrest in 1999, but was only transferred to the tribunal's custody in 2007. The other detainees are Pol Pot's top lieutenant Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who as social affairs minister was the regime's highest-ranking female.

Tuol Sleng, known as security centre "S-21" under the regime, is now a genocide museum frequented by tourists in Phnom Penh.
Duch court document English
Duch court document Khmer

Knights are put to the sword

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Yorn Vantha of the Sisowath Knights (centre top) leaps to catch a line-out during the match against PSE Garudas at the Old Stadium.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Ray Leos
Monday, 19 January 2009

PSE Garudas thrash Sisowath Knights 64-7 in the Cambodian Rugby Premiership

PSE Garudas continued their domination of the Cambodian Rugby Premiership as they rolled over the outmanned Sisowath Knights 64-7 Sunday afternoon at Phnom Penh's Old Stadium.

The outcome of the match was never in doubt as the Garudas surged to a 40-7 half time lead and used their superior speed and quickness to wear down the slower Sisowath side.

The Garudas sit on top of the league having won both their games this season with the Knights yet to record a victory.

Garuda flanker Chey Sophal opened the scoring after just ten minutes with a nifty 20-metre run off a ruck in the middle of the field, as he fended off three attempted tackles on his way to the tryline. Scrumhalf and Garuda captain Pich Ratana converted to give the Garudas a 7-0 advantage.

The Garudas continued their offensive onslaught with tries from flanker Ra Naren and center Ros Chansophorn in the 20th and 25th minutes. Pich Ratana made good on both conversions, extending the lead to 21-0.

Knights' consolation points

Sisowath momentarily stemmed the onslaught in the 30th minute as flanker Dave Friedberg intercepted a Garuda pass and rumbled in from 12 metres to score. Friedberg successfully converted his own try, cutting the Garuda lead to 21-7.

But Sisowath's hopes were dashed moments later as center Vannak Vireak took a pass off a ruck and sprinted down the sideline from 50 metres out to score the try in the 33rd minute. Pich Ratana's conversion made it 28-7.

The Garudas then added two more tries just before halftime with tries from hooker Uk Dara and winger Nhep Ratha, upping the score to 40-7 at the intermission.

The second half was played at a slower pace with the Garudas maintaining possession throughout most of the final 40 minutes and scoring four tries in the last 15. The tries came from center Som Chanphearom (65th minute), Nhep Ratha (70th minute), Ra Naren (73rd minute) and Chey Sophal (76th minute).

Sisowath prop Chro Kim Seang felt his team could not compete with the Garuda speed in the backline.

"They are very fast," he said. "We pushed good in the scrum, but it wasn't enough. When they get to play in the open field it is over [for us]."

Garudas skipper Pich Ratana was pleased with the performance of his team although he felt his forwards could have played better.

ACLEDA to up ATM service

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A new ACLEDA bank under construction in Krang Ampel commune. Rural expansion and improved services are a main priority, says CEO In Channy .

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Monday, 19 January 2009

A plan to implement 42 new teller machines in rural areas will nearly double the number nationwide as the bank aims to boost service in the provinces.

Amid growing concern over the local effects of the global credit crunch, ACLEDA Bank is pressing ahead with plans to open 42 new automated teller machines in rural areas, bank CEO In Channy told the Post Sunday.

The plan will nearly double the existing total of 60 ATMs nationwide and allow rural patrons faster access to cash, In Channy said.

"The additional ATMs will make our bank a leader in providing easier access to cash," In Channy said, adding that the number of new clients using ATM services is growing.

"We are issuing as many as 500 new ATM cards each day for new clients," he said.

In Channy said the bank expects to begin installing the new machines in May, at an estimated cost of US$700,000, though he could not provide any details about where they will be located.

Some prospective areas could be affected by a lack of reliable electricity supply, he added.

The expansion of automated services follows a growing trust among Cambodians in the country's banking sector, In Channy said.

More people are choosing to apply for an ATM card for use as an optional form of identification, In Channy said-a process, he added, that requires only an initial deposit of $10.

"ACLEDA has 180,000 ATM cardholders at present," he said. "And they are not charged anything for using our 24-hour automated services."

The bank's expansion of automated services is part of a national strategy to modernise the banking sector, including credit card and mobile banking services, said Tal Nay Im, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia.


"Clients are being offered a growing number of new products and services at Cambodia's commercial banks to bring the sector in line with what is happening internationally. Though we might be behind our regional neighbours, we have to aim for an international standard," Tal Nay Im said.

"Many Cambodians don't have experience with some of the new services that are regularly available abroad, but commercial banks can play an important role in promoting these new services to new customers," she added.

Economist Chap Sotharith, head of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said the expansion of ATM services, specifically in rural areas, could help ACLEDA appeal to larger numbers of potential customers that have yet to feel confident about using banks on a regular basis.

"If the bank can increase its presence in the rural provinces, they will likely attract greater deposits and help spur on economic growth nationally," Chap Sotharith said.

He added Cambodia's banks have begun to feel the strain of the global credit crunch, though largely indirectly.

"Cambodia's banking sector has suffered a bit, but mainly because of the impact the crisis has had on developed countries," he said.

Cambodia currently has 231 teller machines nationwide, according to a report by NBC in the first quarter of last year.

In Brief: Comfrel to sray out of council elections

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Monday, 19 January 2009

Koul Panha, executive director of Cambodia's main independent election monitoring body, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, told the Post Sunday that his organisation would not be involved in the May commune council elections. The organisation objects to their format using an indirect voting system, he said.

In Brief: Top MP discusses border with Hanoi

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sarah Whyte and Thet Sambath
Monday, 19 January 2009

Cambodian National Assembly President Heng Samrin was reported by Vietnamese state media as saying that demarcation of their shared border would be complete by 2012 following a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart in Hanoi from January 15 to 19."We are like brothers, we always help each other," National Assembly deputy secretary general Chan Ven said, though he would offer no details on the ongoing talks. A bilateral agreement was signed in November last year allowing visa-free travel between the two countries.

In Brief: Soldier asks PM to intervene in land case

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 19 January 2009

A soldier based at Preah Vihear temple said he will leave his post to contest a Phnom Penh Municipal Court decision to seize his property in the capital's Russey Keo district at the end of the month. Captain Kouch Kheang said he sent a letter on December 24 to the prime minister, requesting he overturn the court ruling. "If they enforce the verdict, I will return from Preah Vihear to protect my land. It is very unjust that the court wants to take my land," he said.

Garment factories hunker down for a miserable 2009

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A worker at the Whitex Garment Factory in Phnom Penh. The factory says that exposure to the US market is dragging down sales, with layoffs and cost cuts expected for 2009.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Monday, 19 January 2009

Local garment factory owners say that exposure to the US market is hitting them hard, with cost cuts expected in everything from overtime to electricity.

WITH global garment sales in free fall, local factory owners expect a tough 2009 with more layoffs and closures in store. Garment manufacturers are scrambling to slash their operating costs, with everything from electricity cuts to fewer night shifts expected.

"We all are trying to cut operation costs by 30 to 40 percent," said Ry Vanlo, compliance officer for Global Apparels Ltd. He added that demand has evaporated and his factory would run out of orders in March.

"Our buyers are offering lower prices, even though our costs remain high," said Ry Vanlo.

He said the factory has brought in sweeping cost cuts, affecting everything from overtime to utilities.

"We will turn off the lights when workers go for lunch and leave them off before shifts. The air conditioning has to be switched off when management is not in the office. We are trying to cut costs as much as possible or we won't be able to stay in business," he said.

Seven-hundred workers on the night shift would be transferred to the daytime to cut salary and electricity costs, and a hiring freeze has been brought into effect, he added.

Factories exporting to the US have been hardest-hit by the slowdown - the US Commerce Department reported a 2.5 percent drop in clothing store sales in December 2008.

Global Apparels exports 400,000 dozen garments per year, with 40 percent shipped to the US.

" We don't want to hold a strike, we always want to work overtime. "

"Orders could fall by 20 to 30 percent in the first three months of 2009. We will only be able to run day shifts," Ry Vanlo said.

He said that unions were also aware of the troubles facing the industry.

"The unions know that the factory may close its doors if there is a strike," Ry Vanlo said.

Layoffs and cutbacks

Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia President Van Sou Ieng said last week that 60 factories closed and 25,000 workers had been laid off in 2008.

"The year 2009 will not be a good year for business," said David Teo, Manager of Whitex Garments (Cambodia) Ltd.

Whitex Garments employs 1,500 workers to produce two million to three million pieces of underwear per month.

"We are on very tight deadlines, and if there is a strike, we will be in serious trouble.... We ship 99 percent of our garments to the US," he said.

Long Pannha, president of the Worker Rights Union, said the union at Whitex Factory would not strike unless the factory violates workers' rights.

"We don't want to hold a strike, we always want to work overtime to earn more income. We are happy if buyers order more so we have more work to do." he added.

Thon Kosal, 25, who has worked at Whitex Garment for two years, said the slowdown has made her concerned about job security.

If the factories close, I will go back home to farm with my family," she said.

At a conference last week, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh urged Asean members to integrate and target the low-end market.

"To survive we need to come up with a strategy and fight,"

"We must not fight each other or compete among the Asean members, but we should use the Asean name as a trademark for promoting products from the region," Cham Prasidh said.