Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Promotion expected for ECCC official

Written by Cheang Sokha
Tuesday, 23 June 2009

DEPUTY prosecutor at the Court of Appeal Chea Leang, who is also at the war crimes court, is expected to be promoted as general prosecutor of the Supreme Court, the top judicial position in the Kingdom, however officials remained tight-lipped about the appointment Monday.

Hanrot Raken, general prosecutor at the Court of Appeal said that Chea Leang, who serves as a co-prosecutor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), will replace Ouk Vithun as general prosecutor when he retires.

"I have heard this information, but I have not yet received an official letter about an appointment yet," Hanrot Raken said Monday.

According to Hanrot Raken, four members of Supreme Council of Magistracy will come into retirement "very soon" and are expected to be replaced by Chea Leang; Ouk Savuth, currently deputy general prosecutor at the Court of Appeal; Yet Chakrya, chief prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court; and another official.

"An appointment date has not yet been set," he said.

Chea Leang told the Post Monday that she had not yet received any information about her promotion.

Ouk Vithun also said that he was not aware of any change in his position and that he continued to come into work every day.

Chan Mono, director general of administration at the Ministry of Justice, declined to comment, saying he was too busy to talk to a reporter.

Criticism of role at ECCC
Chea Leang was appointed as the Cambodian co-prosecutor of the ECCC in 2006, a position she maintains. But she has been accused by defence lawyers at the tribunal of being instructed by the government to resist prosecuting more suspects, a move they see as political interference.

"We have not seen the official letter of her appointment, so we would not comment." said ECCC spokesman Reach Sambath.


Prosecutors challenge Duch

Photo by: Georgia Wilkins
Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav describes at his trial how prisoners would be killed with a stab to the throat.

Written by Robbie Corey Boulet
Tuesday, 23 June 2009

PROSECUTORS at the Khmer Rouge tribunal attempted on Monday to identify inconsistencies in the testimony of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, while at the same time challenge the claim that, as a manager who delegated most day-to-day tasks, he learned the particulars of abuses perpetrated at the facility only after it closed.

In testifying about the operations of Tuol Sleng, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, has in the past week repeatedly said that he had little firsthand knowledge of how torture was applied, how interrogations were carried out and how many detainees were housed at the secret detention centre.

But deputy co-prosecutor William Smith said Monday that Duch knew much about daily life in the facility, pointing to the multiple meetings Duch said he held each day with his deputy, Khim Vat, alias Ho.

"You knew about the numbers detained, you knew about the conditions, you obviously knew about the torture and you knew about the killing," Smith said.

Smith also sought to debunk Duch's claim that he had no choice but to follow orders handed down by his Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) superiors or risk being killed himself.

He cited testimony given on April 27 in which Duch said he "personally was scared" after his former superior, Sok Thuok, alias Von Vet, was detained at S-21 in November 1978 and later was executed.

Smith said this indicated that Duch did not fear for his personal safety until less than two months before the regime fell.

"You were not scared because you were very proud of your work," Smith said. "You were proud of the techniques you adopted in terms of torture. You were proud of your techniques in training and education. You were proud that you had that position."

Prosecutors also used a series of documents annotated by Duch that Smith said would demonstrate "the concrete role of the accused" in interrogation, torture and killing at Tuol Sleng.

These included a January 1976 confession in which Duch wrote, "More precise questions must be asked and more serious torture must be used in order to make her talk about her strings", a term used to describe a network of CPK enemies.

On another, he wrote, "Request brother to stand independently and apply constant pressure".

And on a list of prisoners, including 17 children, dated May 30, 1978, Duch wrote to Ho's deputy: "Uncle Peng. Kill them all."

"It was my annotation to order them to smash," Duch said Monday.

To underscore his role in interrogations, prosecutors focused in particular on the interrogation of Khmer Rouge leader Ney Saran, alias Ya, in 1976.

In a letter dated October 1, 1976, Duch encouraged interrogator Tang Sin Hean, alias Pon, to step up the intensity of torture sessions, writing, "Although it may lead to death, comrade is not acting against Angkar's regulations".

Duch told the court Monday that he intended for the letter to be seen by Ya, describing it as a ploy to get the detainee to confess to crimes committed against the regime.

Duch's personal life
Though Presiding Judge Nil Nonn discouraged them, Smith also asked Duch several questions about his personal life as prison chief.

For much of that time, Duch lived with three assistants in a house on Monivong Boulevard near Street 95.

Though he married in December 1975, he told the court Monday that he spent just one out of every 10 nights with his wife, who he said worked at a military hospital.

His office was located behind the house, he said, "Because I might have an occasional visit from my wife and I did not want her to interfere with my confidential documents".

Much of his 11-hour workday was spent annotating confessions, he said, particularly towards the beginning of his tenure. But Duch also described a period in 1978 and early 1979 in which he grew "so hopeless with my life" that he had difficulty performing his job duties.

"I slept [all] day and night long," he said. "Even when my wife tried to wake me up, I could not wake up."

No influence on judges: govt
Also Monday, Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith denied that the government played a role in the selection of judges at the UN-backed court, saying, "The government has no ability to choose any judges of any court, including the [Khmer Rouge tribunal]".

"The Supreme Council of Magistracy appointed the judges, and the government sent the list to its counterpart, meaning the UN," he added.

Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for the defence team for former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, said last week that a document obtained from a source he declined to identify could perhaps be evidence that Prime Minister Hun Sen was involved in choosing judges.

Ianuzzi said Monday that the government's response failed to explain why the document, a list of judges, appears to have been annotated and signed by Hun Sen.


MPs stripped of legal shield

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

THE National Assembly voted to remove the parliamentary immunity of two opposition lawmakers at a closed session Monday, with human rights groups describing the move as a "significant blow" to freedom of expression in Cambodia.

In a single raised-hand vote, the CPP-dominated parliament stripped Sam Rainsy Party MPs Mu Sochua and Ho Vann of their immunity, allowing defamation lawsuits filed against them by senior government officials to proceed.

Twenty SRP lawmakers walked out in protest prior to the vote, which saw 90 out of the 91 MPs present approve the suspension of Mu Sochua's immunity and all 91 approve the same for Ho Vann. But the opposition remained defiant, emerging from the session wearing surgical masks to symbolise the loss of freedom of expression.

"[The CPP lawmakers] lifted their hand without thinking about the country's interests," Mu Sochua said. "They were only thinking of the party's interests - to defend Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose comments have seriously affected my reputation as a people's representative. Is this a national parliament or the CPP's parliament?"

Mu Sochua sued Hun Sen for remarks he made during a speech in Kampot province in April, a case that was dismissed by Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 10. Without her constitutional immunity, she now faces a defamation countersuit from the prime minister.

During a school inauguration in Kandal province Monday, Hun Sen said that the Assembly's vote was designed to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and warned foreigners not to interfere.

"The lifting of their immunity is designed to strengthen the rule of law. If we don't strengthen democracy, things will fall into anarchy," he said.

Abuses of power

But Monday's vote, closed to observers, has prompted a chorus of criticism from local and international rights groups.

"The manner in which the lifting of the two SRP MPs' immunity was conducted this morning leaves no doubt that the government understands that this process was unfair," nine local civil society groups said in a joint statement Monday.

The statement also noted that the decision to include Ho Vann's immunity in the vote was made "in secret" and was only known minutes beforehand.

Ho Vann, who has been sued for defamation and disinformation by 22 senior army officials after he said he was misquoted in a local newspaper, said he had no forewarning of what would happen at the session.

"I did not know my immunity would be lifted at all. I have already corrected what was issued by the newspaper, and the prosecutor also recognised it, so I thought my case could be dropped," he said.

International observers were also taken aback that they were refused entry to the session.

"We were surprised and disappointed," Elizabeth Evans, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Phnom Penh, said outside the parliament.

"We don't understand why access was denied - we normally monitor the workings of the National Assembly and this is of interest to us."

Reversing gains
Basil Fernando, executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, said that Monday's vote, by undercutting basic democratic principles, had paralysed Cambodia's democratic development.

"Cambodia's democracy requires freedom of speech - at least for those in parliament," he said by phone.

"[Monday's vote] means that you can muster a majority and deprive lawmakers of basic freedoms. But a lawmaker should not be dictated to by any majority, only by the people that elected them. That is the very basis on which parliament should function."

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the loss of immunity paralleled a similar situation in 2005, when the National Assembly stripped Sam Rainsy and SRP parliamentarians Cheam Channy and Chea Poch of their immunity.

Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch then fled overseas, and Cheam Channy was jailed on charges of attempting to plot a coup.

"In 2005, it happened the same way. Sam Rainsy and two other parliamentarians' immunity were lifted, and Sam Rainsy left the country and went into exile," he said.

"It's history repeating itself."

Ou Virak expressed hopes that, as with after the 2005 crackdown, things would improve, but said it was difficult to know how far the situation would deteriorate before the tide turned.

"Things will hopefully go back to normal, but the question is when [the situation] will reach its lowest point," he said.

Thai deputy PM to visit Cambodia as temple row flares

23 Jun 2009
Source: Reuters
By Kittipong Soonprasert

BANGKOK, June 23 (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is sending his right-hand man to Cambodia in a bid to calm rising tensions over an ancient temple claimed by both countries on their disputed border.

The Saturday visit by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Taugsuban will follow Thailand's latest challenge of a U.N. decision to make the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple a world heritage site under the sole jurisdiction of Cambodia.

"I will explain to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that we have problems with UNESCO, not with Cambodia," Suthep told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the U.N. culture body.

Thailand wants joint development and supervision of the Hindu temple perched on an escarpment that forms a natural border between the Southeast Asian neighbours and could one day be a lucrative tourist site.

"From my personal acquaintance with him, Hun Sen does not want Cambodia and Thailand to have trouble with each other," Suthep said.

Nationalist passions were aroused in both countries last year when the temple, and questions over its ownership, were dragged into domestic politics.

There have been several border skirmishes in recent months.

In the most recent flare-up in April, two Thai soldiers died in an exchange of rocket and rifle fire with Cambodian troops.

Thailand's latest questioning of the temple's status has angered Phnom Penh, and both sides have sent more troops to the disputed area around Preah Vihear.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters at the weekend that his country was ready to fend off any attacks from Thailand "either militarily, diplomatically or through legal action at the international court".

The sabre-rattling comes ahead of this week's UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville, Spain, at which both Cambodia and Thailand have representatives.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Abhisit blamed the border tensions on UNESCO for "trying to register and manage the area when the process of demarcation hasn't been completed".

"Since they have been active in this, we have casualties, we have tensions, and tourists can't go there any more. That defeats the whole purpose of World Heritage, restoring the heritage for local people, for tourists," Abhisit said.

The Thai leader said he and Hun Sen agreed at their meeting this month to resolve the temple row without violence and not let it stand in the way of cooperation on other issues.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

Both sides have talked about developing the site as a tourist destination. It stands some 600 km (370 miles) east of Bangkok and only a decade ago was controlled by remnants of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge guerrilla army. (Additional reporting by Ek Madra in Phnom Penh; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jerry Norton)

Private Island Cambodia Set to Soar for Investors

June 23, 2009 -- In Cambodia’s untouched Koh Rong Archipelago, an Australian company is setting a new standard for environmentally sensitive luxury resorts in what’s been described as one of the world’s last true tropical paradises.

The resort, when complete in 2010, will be located on Koh Ouen and Koh Bong - two pristine islands off the coast of Sihanoukville. The islands lie side by side and are known affectionately as Song Saa, which is Khmer for ‘The Sweethearts’.

Song Saa Island Resort was launched today and has five luxury two-bedroom villas on offer to likeminded investors seeking their own rare piece of paradise.

“Song Saa will really be at the top end of the market for luxury resorts in Cambodia and will offer the unique experience of an exclusive private island hideaway,” said Martin Foster Investment Risk Analyst for DSR Asset Management Ltd

DSR Asset Management , the company behind the resort, is showing how private operators can play a critical role in the protection of important marine environments.

DSR has established Cambodia’s first fully policed and privately funded marine protected area around the islands’ reefs . The area, protected since 2007, covers 1,000,000 square metres and takes in important coral species and habitat for a number of critically endangered sea horses, turtles, stingrays, anemones, giant clams, countless reef fish and many other marine species.

The resort has also employed a full-time marine biologist to monitor the health of the reefs and to help teach local communities more sustainable fishing methods.

“This has been great for both the environment and the community but also provides the added attraction of having an expert on hand to take guests and villa owners out diving or snorkelling on the resort’s own reef,” Mr Foster said.

“The knowledge that the waters around the island are protected from fishing adds to the magic of this unique location. Guests and villa owners have their own thriving reef to explore literally right on their doorstep,” he said.

Unlike the islands of Thailand, which have seen rapid development over the past decade, Cambodia’s islands remain largely undeveloped. Many are deserted, offering stunning scenery, abundant marine life and secluded white sandy beaches.

With the recent opening of the international airport at Sihanoukville, well-managed tourism in this tropical paradise offers tremendous potential for investors. “Imagine Thailand 40 years ago and you get an idea of the potential of Cambodia’s islands,” Mr Foster said.

“But we can learn from the Thai experience, and ensure this region never loses its incredible appeal through irresponsible development.

“Song Saa is a tremendous opportunity to secure a piece of this unspoiled paradise on a 99-year lease while contributing meaningfully to its protection.”

The villas are being built with a strong focus on sustainable construction materials, low emissions and waste management systems, including a water recycling system to ensure nothing harmful ever reaches the ocean.

Khmer Rouge prison chief 'shocked' by his past

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch

The portraits of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime hang on the walls of the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Phnom Penh

Smoke from incense sticks rises at the memorial site of Phnom Sampov in Battambang province, Cambodia

By Patrick Falby

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — A Khmer Rouge prison chief has told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial that he was "shocked" when confronted with his bloody past and has prayed annually for forgiveness.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, is on trial for overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the hardline communist movement's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

"When I arrived at S-21, I was shocked for the numerous things that happened there. I saw the victims or the survivors -- three of them -- who stood before me. What happened in the past came back into my mind," Duch said.

The 66-year-old was describing his visit with court investigators last year to the former prison, which now serves as a genocide museum, so that he could re-enact his crimes.

Duch's defence team proceeded to show a short video of the visit, in which he attempts to speak but begins to sob uncontrollably, removes his glasses and is comforted by his lawyer.

"I made a speech for the souls of those who died. This is something that I can never forget, the trip to Choeung Ek (the so-called killing field where prisoners were killed) and S-21 in Phnom Penh," Duch said.

He told the court he became consumed with sorrow after fleeing the prison in the face of Vietnam's 1979 invasion of Cambodia, and began to make an annual prayer offering.

"First I asked forgiveness to my parents, then I asked forgiveness from all my teachers, then I asked forgiveness to the victims of all the crimes," Duch said.

He then asked judges for permission to make a statement to the daughter of one of Tuol Sleng's victims who was sitting in court.

However trial chamber president Nil Nonn denied the request, telling him he would only be allowed to use testimony to speak to victims near the end of proceedings.

Earlier in the day, Duch told the court he was twice incriminated in written confessions by prisoners interrogated at his jail, and both times he left the text for his superiors to see in trust that his loyalty would save him.

"I did not make any changes to it because if I did, people would notice that I deleted my name because I did not want to be implicated," Duch said.

Swiss lawyer Alain Werner asked Duch how he then avoided being interrogated and executed, which was standard practice for those named in confessions during the 1975-1979 regime.

"Why did nothing happen to you even though you were implicated twice in confessions? Was it because you were protected by your superiors... who admired your zeal?" Werner said.

Duch answered that the confessions, by a purged superior and a former teacher, were not particularly strong, but added: "The fact is I survived because I insisted I was loyal to (Khmer Rouge leaders)."

As his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity began in March, the former maths teacher begged forgiveness from the victims of the movement and accepted responsibility for his role at Tuol Sleng.

But Duch has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he had a central role in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule. He maintains he tortured only two people himself and never personally executed anyone.

The court does not have the authority to impose the death penalty, but Duch faces a life sentence for war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and premeditated murder.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, and many believe the tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the communist regime, which killed up to two million people.

However the troubled tribunal also faces accusations of interference by the Cambodian government and claims that local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

Former Cambodian king beats cancer for third time

File photo shows former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk (right) alongside Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk (centre) and the current king, Norodom Sihamoniat (left) at Phnom Penh International Airport. The former royal head has been successfully treated for a third bout of cancer, according to a handwritten royal letter posted on his website.
(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Tue Jun 23, 2009

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia's former king Norodom Sihanouk has been successfully treated for a third bout of cancer, according to a handwritten royal letter posted on his website.

The 86-year-old, who left for Beijing in July last year to receive medical treatment for other illnesses, thanked his "most eminent" and "devoted" Chinese doctors who have been treating him there.

"Indeed, the terrific result of their (incomparable) care is here: my third cancer (B-cell lymphoma) has completely disappeared," Sihanouk said in the letter dated Monday.

The former monarch announced the discovery of the new cancer in late December.

Sihanouk was first diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, a cancer affecting blood cells crucial to the immune system, in 1993. The cancer began in his prostate and recurred in 2005 in his stomach.

Sihanouk has suffered from a number of other ailments including diabetes and hypertension.

One of Asia's longest-serving monarchs, Sihanouk abruptly quit the throne in October 2004 in favor of his elder son, Norodom Sihamoni, citing old age and health problems.

Despite abdicating, Sihanouk remains a prominent figure in Cambodia and often uses messages on his website to comment on matters of state.

Anupong visits tense Cambodian border

By: BangkokPost

Published: 23/06/2009

Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda made a visit to the Thai-Cambodian border area near Preah Vihear temple on Tuesday morning.

His trip followed reports reported Cambodia had sent reinforcements of troops, 130mm artillery pieces and T-54 tanks to the border.

News media in Cambodia earlier reported there were unusual movements of Thai troops in expectation that the situation would become tense after Thailand asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to review the registration of the Preah Vihear temple as a world heritage site.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong also said his country was ready for any situation which might follow the reinforcement of troops on the Thai side of the border.

Thai officials visit Cambodia Saturday to clarify stance on Preah Vihear issue

MCOT English News

BANGKOK, June 23 (TNA) - Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban on Tuesday said he will visit Cambodia Saturday on a mission to clarify Thailand's objection to the listing of the Preah Vihear temple ruins as a World Heritage Site to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) agreed to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site of Cambodia in July, 2008.

Mr. Suthep said he and Defence Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan would visit Cambodia to meet Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to stave off any misunderstanding on the Preah Vihear issue between the two neighbouring countries.

He said Thailand and Cambodia had shared common stance to avoid border conflicts and the issue at the moment was not between Thailand and Cambodia, but Thailand and UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit said earlier the government would ask UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to review last year's decision to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site when the meets this week in Spain.

He would also propose that the temple be registered jointly as a World Heritage Site by Thailand and Cambodia, not as a unilateral action by Cambodia.

Mr. Suthep said he hoped that after meeting, Mr. Hun Sen would better understand Thailand's stance.

In 1962 the International Court of Justice ruled that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, but the most accessible entrance begins at the foot of a mountain in Thailand, and both sides claim overlapping portions of the surrounding territory.

Armed clashes between the two military forces have since then occurred periodically near the temple, especially in a 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area. (TNA)

Army beefs up temple forces; Foreign Ministry fears border talks derailment

Published: 23/06/2009

The army has deployed a battalion of troops backed by heavy weapons near Preah Vihear temple in Si Sa Ket province in case of further clashes with Cambodian soldiers.

Army chief Anupong Paojinda had ordered the Lop Buri-based artillery to send the battalion of troops with 12 large artillery weapons to Pha Mor E-Daeng Cliff national park, a source said yesterday.

Gen Anupong also ordered a company of special warfare troops to guard the border area in the northeastern province with a battalion of infantrymen as reinforcements. There are now 3,000 infantrymen securing the border.

The source said the additional troops and weapons were not sent to provoke clashes with Cambodian troops but were there as back-up. Thailand had a clear policy not to use force to solve border disputes with Cambodia.

The wrangling over the historic temple ruins and recent strong reaction from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had sparked speculation of more clashes between the two countries.

The army commander will today fly to the border area in Si Sa Ket, the source said.

The Foreign Ministry has expressed concern that Thailand's objection to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site last year could have a negative impact on border talks.

Vasin Teeravechyan, head of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission, said Thailand's position could obstruct border negotiations, including the 4.6 square kilometre area claimed by the two countries close to the temple.

The commission will wait for a response from the World Heritage Committee on the Thai position in Seville and the outcome of talks between Cambodian officials and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban in Phnom Penh this week. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti has travelled to the Spanish city for talks with the WHC.

If the talks in Seville and Phnom Penh do not go smoothly, it could disrupt the collaboration pledged by the Thai and Cambodian prime ministers, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Hun Sen, during Mr Abhisit's recent visit to Cambodia on June 12.

The Thai World Heritage Committee last week informed the Thai cabinet about its decision to oppose the registration of the ancient Hindu temple.

It said last year's listing had violated the registration process and increased conflicts along the Thai-Cambodian border instead of promoting cultural conservation and tourism between the peoples of both countries.

Suthep to meet Hun Sen this weekend

Published: 23/06/2009

Deputy Prime Minister for security affairs Suthep Thaugsuban said on Tuesday he will on Saturday visit Cambodia to meet with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and explain the case Thailand is mnaking to Unesco about the registration of the Preah Vihear ancient temple as a World Heritage site by Cambodia.

Mr Suthep said the petition case is a matter between the Thai government and Unesco, and had nothing to do with Cambodia, which owns the temple.

If all conflict ws cleared up, the situation between the two neighboring countries would improve, he said.

He believed beither Thailand nor Cambodia wanted any problem with each other.

Too important for politics

Published: 23/06/2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the government have some good ideas about moving ahead on the old, thorny and unfortunately violent issue of the temple of Preah Vihear. It is a shame that they have failed to develop those ideas properly. Instead of tackling the dispute as a many-faceted problem, they have sprung it on the public without notice or discussion. Instead of raising it with Cambodia as the temple's owner, they are taking it to the United Nations. Instead of treating Khao Phra Viharn as an important diplomatic question, they are treating it as a political and military matter.

Two delegations are to strike out this week in opposite directions to address the temple issue. The local committee on heritage sites is heading for Spain. This Thai group has long had a low profile, acting chiefly as a liaison between the government and local authorities on one hand, and the World Heritage Centre of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on the other. The group supervises the management of the five designated heritage sites in Thailand: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest, the Thung Yai-Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary, and the Ban Chiang archaeological site.

Heading for Phnom Penh will be Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. Mr Abhisit made an official visit to Cambodia last week but did not raise the temple issue with Prime Minister Hun Sen. Mr Suthep, who is no diplomat, must try to make the case that running the temple area is best handled by Thailand for reasons of geography or, failing that, by the two countries. That assumes Mr Hun Sen will agree to meet him.

Last weekend, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong held a special press conference just to criticise Thailand and to threaten more military clashes. On the Thai side, Mr Abhisit's policy seems consistent. A year ago, in the lead-up to the Unesco declaration, he and the People's Alliance for Democracy took a hard stance on Preah Vihear. But this sudden announcement has caught everyone off guard, including government supporters. It is unclear why the Foreign Ministry is being sidelined, since it has the staff and experience to approach their Cambodian counterparts.

The mission to the Unesco meeting in Spain appears in equal disarray. Mr Abhisit's sudden and unexpected decision to take the entire temple dispute back to Unesco is less than a week old. The Thai delegation is under instructions to ask the World Heritage body to withdraw last year's resolution to declare Preah Vihear as an official world heritage site under full control of the Cambodian government.

There is undoubted merit in Mr Abhisit's proposal for joint management of the temple region. But the premier may have set up the country for a fall. The public, Unesco members and Cambodia all have been given no preparation or background for the sudden initiative. Thailand is only an observer at the World Heritage Committee (WHC). One sees ghosts of 1959, when Thailand's advocate MR Seni Pramoj argued at the World Court that the temple was the property of Thailand. Lack of preparation by the team was blamed for the court's decision to award jurisdiction to Cambodia.

Joint management of the Khao Phra Viharn area seems the only way to solve such a serious, even deadly, dispute. But that will require drawn-out negotiations by experts, with strong public participation. The Preah Vihear issue should not be a confrontation, but a common problem of Thailand and its neighbour, Cambodia. By constantly looking to the past, both countries are tacitly refusing to look to the future.

Court Begins Probe of Justice Official

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
22 June 2009

Phnom Penh Municipal Court began its probe into charges against a high-ranking member of the Ministry of Justice, alleged to have forged the prime minister’s signature in an attempt to secure the release from jail of a Russian tycoon.

A lawyer for Prum Piseth, who is head of the ministry’s administration office, confirmed the case had reached the court, but declined further comment.

Officials say Prum Piseth allegedly attempted to have Alexander Trofimov, who is fighting charges of sexually abusing underage girls, released from jail.

He was reported by Lt. Gen. Hing Bun Heang, chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Researchers Look Closer at Ancient Angkor

By Sothearith Im, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
22 June 2009

Ancient Khmer art and culture have characteristics distinct from India, though some ideas appear to have been borrowed from the tradition, a Canadian archeologist told guests in Washington last week.

Speaking to a small conference at the Freer-Sackler Art Gallery, Mitch Henderickson, director of the Industries of Angkor Project and researcher at the University of Sydney, said he found no evidence after seven years of research indicating that temples or architectural structures like Angkor Wat had been built in India.

“In the past it was interpreted as a direct diffusion of Indians and Indian ideals into Cambodia,” he said. “It has only been, say, in the last 10 years that we have truly understood how Brahman and Buddhist ideals have been brought into Cambodia and whether the actual Brahman or monks were giving the ideas.”

Some architecture and arts were now thought “uniquely Khmer,” he said, “because there are no temples in India that are built in the same way. They don’t follow the idea of building a ‘baray’ with a ‘mebon’ in the center, which is the representation of Mount Meru in the Sea of Milk [epic]. There’s nothing like that i​n India. So, the idea is that now we realize that Cambodia took the ideas that they wanted and modified them to suit the purpose and goals of the rulers and kings.”

Henderickson said Angkor was the biggest industrial site in the world at that time. His findings show that the Khmers had infrastructure spanning their empire.

Roads started from modern northern Cambodia and reached northern Thailand and southern Laos, spreading south to present-day Kampong Thom province. Every road was accompanied by ponds and rest-houses to facilitate people’s travel and transportation.

Irrigation systems were established as water sources for agriculture.

Evidence now pointed away from such structures being built by King Jayavarman VII, he said, and now indicated they were done by King Suryavarman I.

An ancient text he had studied “doesn’t say [Jayavarman VII] built roads, it doesn’t say he built bridges, and it doesn’t say he built the ponds, but we have all the evidence in the landscape,” Henderickson said. “And we also know that the Khmers were expanding across this territory 200 years before Jayavarman VII. So, it is more realistic to think that the road system that we see today is the product of Suryavaraman I, and possibly an earlier king.”

Cambodia is much loved for its ancient architecture and culture, but much remains unknown. Tourism is the second-highest outside earner for the country, after garment manufacturing.

The remnants of the Khmer empire continue to draw tourists from abroad, while capturing the imagination of local visitors, but the country continues to lose its heritage to looters and grave robbers.

There are two kinds of looting, said Dougald O’Reilly, a colleague of Henderickson who also attended last week’s talk, said: temple looting and looting of ancient cemeteries.

“The second one is mostly driven by people poverty,” said O’Reilly, who is also an archeologist and is the director of Heritage Watch, a non-profit group that seeks to protect Cambodia’s artifacts.

“The international market is a driving force, so people who are poor, they need to make money, and they are encouraged to loot by people who are middlemen in this trade,” O’Reilly said. “So, often we have Cambodian and Thai people asking villagers if they have antiquities, etc.”

People who feel guilty looting temples may not feel the same way about ancient cemeteries, he said.

Heritage Watch has a variety of programs, such as publishing comics and children’s books, a Heritage Friendly Tourism Campaign that encourages tourists to buy products from businesses that are “heritage friendly.” A

The organization hopes to educate local people to understand the importance of Cambodia’s cultural past, which attracts tourists—and income.

“Cambodia really represents the best of the best in heritage,” he said. “So, people come there for heritage, but at the same time it has been chipped away and destroyed at rather alarming rate. If Cambodia wants to build a sustainable and a long term tourism industry, it’s crucial that they preserve and protect not only the monuments but also the ancient sites.”

Scientists need these sites to understand how Angkor came to be, and what happened to it, he said. “But if these heritages are lost, we can’t answer these questions.”

The Number of Offices Being Rented Declined by 50 Percent, but the Price of the Rents Declines Only Slowly – Monday, 22.6.2009

Posted on 22 June 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 618

“Phnom Penh: The number of clients who rent offices declined by 50%, but the prices of rents in Phnom Penh do not get much cheaper.

“The director of the Bunna Realty Group, Mr. Sung Bunna, said by telephone on Friday morning that offices for rent in Phnom Penh do not find enough renters, motivating some condo and apartment owners to reduce their rent prices by 10% to 20%, but some other office owners do not lower their prices.

“To lower the rent prices does not necessarily mean that the problems can be solved, and Mr. Bunna said, ‘In an economic atmosphere like the present one, to lower the rent prices will damage our general price structure at the market. Our investment atmosphere was good until early this year, but now it is not. However, the future will be better.’

“But he added that the rent prices of condos and apartments in Cambodia are lower than in neighboring countries. Offices for rent in Cambodia are classified in three classes. Class A: Rent prices are between US$20 and US$30 per square meter; Class B: Rents cost US$13 to US$20; and Class C: US$8 to US$13.

“He went on to say that foreigners rent those three classes of offices, but a remarkable number of local businesspeople also rent offices.

“The president of the Cambodian Economic Association, Mr. Chan Sophal, said on the same day that most predictions expect that the economy will rise again in 2010. As Cambodia depends a lot on the global economy, therefore Cambodia will only recover after the global economy recovers.

“He added, ‘The economic downturn paralyzes the real estate market, but too high a rise can also not be maintained in a sustainable way.’

“He continued to say, ‘If the economy recovers, there will not be many offices left for rent, because of the large demand, and because our countries attract many investors.

“‘Are the many constructions sites for condos and for apartments just to beautify the atmosphere with a supply surpassing the demand in the present Cambodian economic atmosphere?’

“To this question, Mr. Chan Sophan responded, ‘I think that there is not a supply beyond the demand, if the economy becomes again normal.’”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4926, 21-22.6.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 22 June 2009

US Move To Boost Ties

A Cambodian boy plows a rice field in Takeo province, May 30, 2008.

Radio Free Asia


No longer on a U.S. blacklist, Cambodia could see bilateral trade ties expand.

...You could say some investors from America have waited." Chan Sophal, Cambodian Economic Association

PHNOM PENH—U.S. President Barack Obama's move to clear the way for the U.S. Export-Import Bank to help finance U.S. exports to Cambodia marks a small but significant step in improving relations, analysts say.

Obama this month issued two memoranda determining that Cambodia and Laos were no longer Marxist-Leninist countries, based on their market-opening moves.

That will allow U.S. firms to seek financing through the U.S. Export-Import bank, which provides working capital guarantees, export credit insurance, and loan guarantees.

Murray Hiebert, senior director for Southeast Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce East Asia department, called the move "a great opportunity to explore new options for expanding trade and investment between our two countries."

"Cambodia has been in all kinds of discussions with the U.S. government in the last year or two on expanding trade and economic cooperation…Cambodians have been very anxious to look for ways to broaden their economic relationships with the U.S.," Hiebert said.

'First step'

An Ex-Im Bank spokesman called the move "a first step" in financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods and services in Cambodia.

"Now begins a process of updating the required studies that the U.S. government uses to determine the programs for which buyers in those two countries could be eligible to use, the products they could have access to, and the rates that would be used to determine the costs of that financing,” spokesman Phil Cogan said.

Ex-Im Bank is bound by U.S. government rules and minimum costs established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which the U.S. is a member, he said.

The OECD bars exporting countries from undercutting each other based on the fees they charge for their financing and forces exporters to compete based on the quality of their products.

"Someone in Phnom Penh or in Laos who wants to start buying U.S. goods and they don’t have access to reasonable financing, or any financing, to buy from the U.S. will...be able to use their local bank, or bank in the U.S., to help them finance what they buy, with the Ex-Im Bank either providing the guarantee of that loan or providing a direct loan," Cogan said.

"The action the president took enables us to begin the process of opening up for business, but it’s going to be a period of months before we’ll actually be able to start accepting applications," he said.

Boosting relations

In the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, officials welcomed the move.

"The door has already been unlocked and it just needs to be opened. We welcome the removal [of Cambodia from the blacklist] because it will facilitate small investors to come to Cambodia," Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

Cheam Yeab, chairman of the National Assembly finance, banking, and audit committee, called it "a gift to Cambodia and the Cambodian people to open their trade and agro-industrial markets to the U.S."

"In addition, more U.S. investments in other fields will come, besides Chevron which has exploited oil along the Khmer coast," Cheam Yeab said.

Son Chhay, an opposition member of parliament, said it would boost political and economic motivation but added that Cambodia "should have been removed long ago" from the trade blacklist.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodian Economic Association, hoped for increased U.S. investment in Cambodia.

"The blacklist did not bring Cambodia obstacles to [all trade]—a number of countries and investors still came for business in Cambodia—but you could say some investors from America have waited. We hope this good news will help them decide to…come directly to Cambodia for investments," Chan Sophal said.

Small markets

Cambodia and Laos, with a combined population of more than 20 million, are small markets for the United States.

Last year, the United States exported just U.S. $154 million worth of goods to Cambodia and just U.S. $18 million to Laos.

U.S. imports of mostly clothing and other textiles from Cambodia totaled more than U.S. $2.4 billion last year. The United States bought U.S. $42 million worth of goods from Laos in 2008.

Original reporting by Ath Bonny for RFA’s Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Translated by Uon Chhin. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Pastors given sendoff for Cambodia mission

Community members at Salem Friends Church bid farewell to Brianna and Nathan Martin, center, who plan to leave in August as missionaries to Cambodia.
Mt. Pleasant News

by Erik Owomoyela
Monday, June 22, 2009

SALEM – Congregants at Salem Friends Church bid an emotional farewell to Nathan and Brianna Martin at the two pastors’ commissioning ceremony Saturday evening. The couple, who spent the last three years at the Salem church, hope to leave in August to serve as missionaries in Cambodia.

“To make a long story short, we have been feeling called to missions since high school,” Nathan Martin said. “We wanted to go someplace where there was a real need.”

Both were praised by several in attendance for the work they did at the church, and the profound impact they had made in people’s lives.

Although they won’t be leaving right away, as Brianna Martin told the well-wishers, they have been keeping busy.

“Every Sunday, we’ve been at another church,” she said. “We’ve been really blessed as we go to churches. We feel like our family is growing, and we feel we’re meeting so many wonderful people, and it’s really been a privilege to do that.”

They have raised about 80 percent of the support they need, she said; their next deadline is in August, when they will leave.

Immunity Pulled From Two Opposition Figures

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
22 June 2009

The National Assembly voted to suspend the parliamentary immunity of two opposition lawmakers Monday, as journalists and diplomats were barred from the session.

The two Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers, Mu Sochua and Ho Vann, are each facing lawsuits from figures in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which has a vast majority of National Assembly seats.

Mu Sochua is being sued by Prime Minister Hun Sen for defamation, and Ho Vann faces a similar charge from a block of 22 military officers, following public criticism of certificates they were awarded by the Vietnamese government.

Mu Sochua’s original lawsuit against Hun Sen, for allegedly degrading remarks made during the 2008 election campaign, has been dropped by the court.

Democracy advocates have said the cases represent political intimidation and an erosion on the freedom of expression.

Lawmakers from two opposition parties gathered after Monday’s session wearing masks to protest the immunity pull.

All 90 of the CPP lawmakers were present for the closed-door session Monday.

“The National Assembly is thinking of the [CPP],” Mu Sochua told reporters after the decision Monday. “The National Assembly is not an National Assembly belonging to the nation.”

She called the decision a “very serious” blow to Cambodian democracy. “The suspension of parliamentary immunity has no justice.”

Ho Vann called the decision “not fair or proper, because I corrected what I said.”

Am Sam Ath, chief of the investigation unit for the rights group Licadho, called the decision improper, as both cases were minor, while Rong Chhun, head of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Assocition, called on all 26 opposition lawmakers to resign from the National Assembly over the matter.

“The parliamentarians cannot defend themselves,” he said. “So the people will face a violation of their rights and freedoms, because the parliament represents the people, to protect the people, and now, parliamentary immunity is not guaranteed. This is a serious point.”

CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yiep said Monday the decision had been made “following the procedures and the law.”

“We must respect the law,” he said.

Journalists, diplomats and other observers were barred from Monday’s meeting.

“We’re surprised and disappointed about this,” Elizabeth Haven, deputy chief mission for the British Embassy told reporters in front of the National Assembly. “We do not understand why access has been denied. We normally monitor the National Assembly.”

“Usually, this should be a public session,” said German Ambassador Frank Mann, adding that he too was disappointed.

Mu Sochua reiterated Monday claims that she would not flee the country and would struggle by legal means against Hun Sen’s lawsuit. She did say, however, that she is to travel for business purposes to the United States and would be back in early July.

Critics Doubt Construction Investment

By Ros Sothea, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
22 June 2009

A quarterly report by the government says more than 600 new construction projects worth nearly $1 billion were approved by the government in the first quarter of the year, a near doubling from the same period in 2008, but industry experts doubt the planned investment will come through.

The proposed projects came from small- and medium-sized investors from local and international companies, according to Im Chamrong, director of the Ministry of Urban Planning’s construction department.

“We are always worried about economic crisis, but investors are continuously applying [for construction licenses],” he told VOA Khmer in an interview. “There are some 10 or 20 big construction projects applied for by local and international investors every month.”

However, Sung Bonna, president of the Real Estate Assessment Association, warned that the figures only represented plans, and no actual work.

“They just applied first, but no actions were taken,” he said. “No money has been spent and there has been no work force.”

Sung Bunna said that the reality on the ground was that no large projects had begun construction. Meanwhile, smaller projects such as housing have increased roughly 5 percent in 2009, after failing 30 percent to 40 percent in late 2008.

Consruction boomed in 2007, by 160 percent from the year before, but the global economic crisis stunted the growth, and led to the cancelation of at least three mega-projects.

Vorn Chan Thorn, president of Royal Investment Realty, said his costumers had completely fallen off since the crisis.

“There are only rental costumers, but no buyers at all,” he said.

Lim Sovanara, an economist for UNDP, said the numbers, which exceeded annual foreign direct investment, were “unbelievable” without further investigation.

“The large investment that exists only on the paper will interrupt the strategy in strengthening the construction sector during the economic crisis,” he told VOA Khmer.

Cambodia’s main economic drivers, garments and tourism, have been hard hit by the global downturn, so the construction figures were a surprise. Construction and agriculture have been major components of Cambodia’s galloping economic growth, which before the slump enjoyed near double-digits.

The government’s quarterly report, issued June 2, identified plans for 34 large construction projects of more than 3,000 square meters, amounting to $864.9 million in investment; 584 smaller projects were valued at $72.7 million. Among the 34 large projects, only one project was delayed, the report said.

In 2008, Phnom Penh, provincial and ministerial authorities approved 2,156 projects, with an estimated value of more $3 billion dollars.

To Avoid Killing, Duch Betrayed Order

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
22 June 2009

Kaing Kek Iev, the jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief better known as Duch, told tribunal judges Monday he at least once disobeyed orders from superiors to poison an inmate.

Duch was head of the Tuol Sleng torture center, where prosecutors say he was responsible for the torture and murder of 12,380 people.

Duch said he had ignored orders from Pol Pot’s lieutenant, Nuon Chea, who is also in tribunal detention, to poison at least one prisoner, dispensing pain relief tablets instead.

“The reason was pity, and also to avoid killing the prisoner myself,” he said.

Duch has admitted to responsibility for ordering torture and killing, but he has never admitted to doing any himself.

Now 66, he faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and murder, in the first trial to be undertaken by the UN-backed court.

HIV-Positive Cambodians Evicted From Phnom Penh Homes

22 Jun 2009

To make way for a Ministry of Tourism garden, 20 families with HIV-positive members have been evicted from their homes and moved outside of the city, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The newspaper writes, "Despite municipal officials claiming that residents left voluntarily and will be better off at the new site, which has been condemned by local and international rights groups as being unsuitable for human habitation, residents said they were unhappy with the move" (Shay/Chamroeun, Phnom Penh Post, 6/18).

According to the China Post, "[t]he evictions from the Borei Keila community came after several months of strong protests by the families, who complained that they would be without basic services, have no means of income and lose access to medical treatment at the new location." The China Post reports that other residents in the neighborhood not infected with HIV were "resettled in apartments. The 20 families evicted Thursday were not given that option."

Naly Pilorge, director of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, said in a statement, "It is tragic that the government has chosen to create a permanent AIDS colony where people will face great stigma and discrimination," adding that the relocation area is far from medical services (China Post, 6/19). U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights country representative Christophe Peschoux said, "What has been prepared so far is a warehouse-type shelter without running water or electricity," adding it "is not appropriate to receive families that have members with HIV." According to Peschoux, the U.N. submitted an alternative to the plan that would have integrated the now uprooted families into the community (Phnom Penh Post, 6/18).

According to the AP/Washington Post, "Officials say they evicted the families because they had illegally settled on state land where the government now wants to build new offices for the Ministry of Tourism. The evictions were carried out Thursday without force after a week of negotiations. About 50 police stood guard, helping the families to collect their belongings" (Cheng, AP/Washington Post, 6/18)

The secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism "said the government had helped the community with all its available resources, and that no matter what the government did, the community would still have demanded more" (Phnom Penh Post, 6/18).

This information was reprinted from globalhealth.kff.org with kind permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery at globalhealth.kff.org.

© Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

Is Cambodia the future shelter for Vietnamese climate exiles?

Neak Leung (Prey Veng, Cambodia). 16/11/2002: Storm near the Neak Leung pier, on the road from Cambodia to Vietnam
©John Vink/Magnum


By Laurent Le Gouanvic

Will Cambodia collapse under the weight of thousands of starving Vietnamese exiles, fleeing fields devastated by roaring waves? Much dreaded by Cambodians, the invasion of their territory by the children of Uncle Ho may result not from aggressive territorial ambitions, but from the dramatic consequences of a global warming that would force farmers into a rural exodus as their lands were gradually lost to the sea. If the scenario of a sudden arrival in mass of Vietnamese migrants on the Khmer soil seems unlikely today, several recent reports point out the major environmental risks which people in the Mekong Delta may be faced with in the forthcoming decades. A new challenge for the two nations after a long common history of much turmoil.

Predicting the future with maps, that is what researchers from the United Nations University, the NGO Care International and Columbia University have endeavoured to do in a report published in May 2009, entitled “In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement”. Supported by documents and statistics, the three authors attempt to understand and explain “how environmental shocks and stresses, especially those related to climate change, can push people to leave their homes in search of ‘greener pastures’ … or just to survive.” On the eight maps intended to present regions of the world that are particularly vulnerable and symbolic of ongoing changes, two focus on the consequences of climate changes in the countries where the Mekong flows.

From the sources to the Mekong Delta
One of them features the enormous Himalaya chain, genuine “water towers of Asia” due to the presence of gigantic glaciers where mythical and vital rivers such as the Ganges, the Irrawady or the Mekong take their birth. The glaciers, which constitute natural water resources, are melting at a worrying pace, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The accelerated melting may jeopardise the survival of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and Vietnamese whose farming lands are subjected to the Mekong’s whims.

The fast melting of the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau, the authors stress, will likely provoke important flooding, mainly downstream first, that is in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam and Cambodia. In a second time, in addition to the disastrous floods, there may be the consequences of the construction of new hydropower dams upstream - which will temporarily benefit from important flows but may tend, with time, to deprive inhabitants downstream of diminishing hydraulic resources. A tragedy that is already unfolding, the report underlines.

Increasingly dramatic floods
If floods have long become an integral part of the daily lives of those living in the Mekong Delta, as their lives follow the river’s ebb and flow, their seriousness and frequency have been on the increase and become more and more problematic. “[E]nvironmental change (flooding in this case study) is shown to be a trigger for independent migration decisions [in the Mekong Delta] when livelihoods are negatively affected,” the authors claim, citing the testimonies of Vietnamese who settled in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, and were interviewed for a field study carried out between October and December 2007 for the “Environmental Change and Forced Migration Scenarios” (EACH-FOR) program.

“Disasters occurred so often [in my native region],” then explained one of the 32 Vietnamese migrants living in the Cambodian capital and interviewed for the study “[M]y family lost the crop [and] had to borrow money to spend. Now, my family is not able to pay off the loan so I have to come here to work to help my family to pay the loan.” Among the 32 people - a non-representative sample of the population of Vietnamese migrants in Cambodia -, three quarters of them spontaneously cited problems related to the natural environment as one of the causes that influenced their decision to leave their homes. Half of them even claimed that the environmental issues had been the reason for their departure. “[T]he floods and the storms occurred all the time, we decided to migrate to earn a living,” confided one of the respondents.

From climate change to human trafficking
In the same study, a Vietnamese doctor working in Phnom Penh reported even more tragic situations: some Vietnamese families allegedly sold their daughters to prostitution networks in Cambodia to ensure their survival, after their crops were destroyed by successive floods. Although this may not be made into a general statement, this observation seems to point to an unexpected consequence of climate change: the increase in human trafficking. The writers conclude that the link between the two phenomena is real, although it was not effectively measured.

Flooded worlds
In addition to the fears prompted by the melting glaciers in the Himalaya, there is another threat, which is more localised and addressed in another map of the report “In Search of Shelter”: the rising sea level. Here again, the researchers from the UNU, Care International and Columbia University echo the conclusions of a previous study made by the World Bank, which claimed that due to the density of its population and of threatened farming areas, Vietnam was one of the two countries at risk of suffering most seriously from a rising general sea level.

On the basis of predictions made in February 2007 by the experts mandated by the World Bank, the May 2009 report stressed that in the future, one Vietnamese out of ten would be faced with displacement due to a seal level rise in the Mekong Delta. Today, no less than 18 million people live in the Mekong Delta, that is 22% of the total population of Vietnam. Also and even more importantly, the region is Vietnam’s green belt, as it represents about 40% of the cultivated land in the country, which provide “half of its national rice production and 80% of its fruit production.”

Two-meter increase, 14 million migrants
The authors speculate that, should the global sea level rise of two meters, nearly 14.2 million Vietnamese - a figure higher than the total population of Cambodia, which currently stands at 13.4 million people - would lose their land to the waters. A frightening prospect. Especially when the figures are read in light of the introduction of the report: “[…] societies affected by climate change may find themselves locked into a downward spiral of ecological degradation, towards the bottom of which social safety nets collapse while tensions and violence rise. In this all-too-plausible worst-case scenario, large populations would be forced to migrate as a matter of immediate survival.”

Vietnam, but also the whole region, including Cambodia, would therefore be faced with an unprecedented migratory and humanitarian crisis that may have economic and political consequences. The Khmer Kingdom, itself subject to draught, in areas that already suffer from it, and to periods of flooding, would then also be faced with the arrival in mass of unwanted Vietnamese farmers ready for everything to save their lives.

Unpredictable consequences
However, the catastrophic scenario, which is based on a two-meter rise of the sea level, represents a hypothesis that not everyone agrees upon. The various patterns selected by the IPCC in the 2007 report, which serves as the reference on this issue, foresees that global warming will increase between +0.6oC and +4oC by 2099. According to the various envisaged predictions, the increases would result in the sea level rising from 0.18 to 0.59 meter by the end of the century. The IPCC warns that these figures are to be taken with a pinch of salt, as the Panel is issuing here scenarios that exclude “future rapid dynamical changes in ice flow”: “[T]he upper values of the ranges given are not to be considered upper bounds for sea level rise,” it stresses. “The projections include a contribution due to increased ice flow from Greenland and Antarctica at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but these flow rates could increase or decrease in the future.” Increase? Decrease? Under these circumstances, it is difficult to predict what the state of farming lands in the Mekong Delta will be in the next fifty years.

Prompting governments to react
The most pessimistic predictions therefore offer at least one interest: that of prompting governments of concerned countries to react in order to anticipate and adapt – if not to fight on their own against climate change. Thus, Vietnamese authorities have decided to set up a programme aimed at controlling population movements related to the new environmental phenomena, entitled “Vietnam Disaster Prevention”, which consists in relocating families living in vulnerable areas. The challenge is significant: the relocations are heavy operations as they require not only to find available land but also to make sure that the displaced families will have access to new means of subsistence and social, health and education structures.

In Cambodia, since 2006, the government drafted a “National Adaptation Programme of Action to Climate Change” supposed to coordinate the various operations and information in this area. However, the Kingdom appears as one of the Asian countries least prepared, according to the “Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping for Southeast Asia” published in January 2009 by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia. Cambodia is reportedly the country with the weakest “adaptive capacity” in South-East Asia. Although less exposed than other territories to storms and natural catastrophes, the country is, after the Philippines, most at risk of being affected by climate change, due to its weak adaptive capacities.

At the regional level, a lukewarm awareness
Finally, at the regional level, the issue of global warming and CO2 emissions has timidly started to appear at the top of the agenda. On June 16th and 17th, the Asian Development Bank sponsored a high-level meeting on climate change in Asia and the Pacific, while the institution announced the doubling, from 2013, of its investments in “clean energies.” However, a long way remains before the issue of internal and transborder displacements of population be tackled upfront.


Climate “refugees” or “migrants”, fundamental issues behind the words
While some organisations refer to “climate refugees”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recalls that the word “refugee”, as defined in the 1951 Geneva Convention on the statute of refugees, legally concerns only the individuals who have left the country of their nationality due to persecution or founded fear of persecution. Following this official definition, individuals who have left their place of residence for economic or environmental reasons may not be considered as refugees. The terms “environmental migrants or displaced people” are therefore used in the official jargon. The International Organization for Migration therefore uses the following definition: “Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to have to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their territory or abroad.” The issues involved in these terms and their definitions go beyond the linguistic dimension: a person benefiting from the statute of refugee has the right to be accepted on the territory of state parties to the Geneva Convention, a right that “economic” or “environmental migrants” may not claim currently. The UNHCR therefore demands a global discussion on the statute of the new migrants to ensure their global protection and, if required, to be entrusted with new responsibilities… and the funds necessary.

Cambodia lawmakers protest

The case against Ms Mu Sochua (left) came after her attempt to sue the prime minister for what she says were defamatory remarks made about her during two speeches. --PHOTO: AFP

The Straits Times

June 22, 2009

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA'S Parliament stripped immunity on Monday from two opposition legislators who face defamation lawsuits by the prime minister and senior military officers. The two accused Parliament of serving the prime minister's interests as colleagues staged a walkout.

The National Assembly stripped immunity from prosecution from Ms Mu Sochua and Mr Ho Vann, both from the Sam Rainsy Party, pending a court investigation of the defamation lawsuits.

Ms Mu Sochua told reporters the immunity was lifted to serve the political interests of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling party, which dominates Cambodia's political scene. Immunity protects lawmakers from both criminal charges and civil suits.

All 26 members of the legislators' party walked out of the lower house of Parliament after the vote, wearing masks to express that their rights of free speech had been blocked.

The case against Ms Mu Sochua came after her attempt to sue the prime minister for what she says were defamatory remarks made about her during two speeches.

In early April, Mr Hun Sen referred to an unnamed lawmaker as a 'strong leg,' a term seen by some in Cambodia as particularly offensive to women. Ms Mu Sochua has said the speech clearly referred to her. She also denounced his remarks in another speech.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court rejected her lawsuit earlier this month, saying it was groundless, but it moved ahead with the prime minister's countersuit.

Close military allies of Mr Hun Sen filed a lawsuit against Mr Ho Vann after a local newspaper quoted him as allegedly saying in April that 22 senior military officers had received meaningless awards from Vietnam.

Last week, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia and New York-based Human Rights Watch criticised the lawsuits against the lawmakers.

'The lawsuits undermine the constitutional freedom of opinion and expression,' the UN said in statement.

Human Rights Watch said Mr Hun Sen had 'a long history of trying to muzzle Cambodia's political opposition and undermine the independence of the legal profession.' -- AP

Duch's testimony challenged

Kaing Guek Eav (left), better known by his nom de guerre Duch, is on trial for overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the hardline communist movement's notorious Tuol Sleng prison. --PHOTO: AFP

The Straits Times

June 22, 2009

PHNOM PENH - PROSECUTORS at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court argued on Monday that the Khmer Rouge prison chief has given inconsistent accounts of his seniority in the late 1970s regime.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his nom de guerre Duch, is on trial for overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the hardline communist movement's notorious Tuol Sleng prison.

The former jail chief has claimed numerous times that he worked under fear for his life, but prosecutor William Smith pointed to an April testimony in which Duch said he only became afraid after a superior was arrested in 1978.

'I put it to you that you were not scared (before) because you were one of the most highly connected (Central Party) members,' Smith said.

Duch, however, maintained he would have been 'beheaded' if he had not followed orders from superiors.

'We were a tool of the party.... It was the central committee that imposed the terror and if we failed to follow their orders we would be executed,' Duch said.

Earlier in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Duch begged forgiveness from the victims of the hardline communist movement after accepting responsibility for his role in leading the jail.

But he has consistently denied prosecutors' claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule and maintains he tortured only two people himself and never personally executed anyone.

The court does not have the authority to impose the death penalty, but the former maths teacher faces a life sentence for war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and premeditated murder.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, and many believe the tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the 1975 to 1979 communist regime, which killed up to two million people. -- AFP

Making connections at Angkor

Mon, Jun 22, 2009
The Business Times

By Clarissa Tan

THERE is poor and there is poor.

In Singapore, being poor may mean you have never stepped into a fancy restaurant. In Cambodia, it likely means you have never tasted meat.

This is the kind of overwhelming divide between industrialised countries and emerging nations that we rarely have to face head on.

Except, of course, when we travel.

And Siem Reap - home of the breathtakingly beautiful Angkor temples, situated in one of the poorest nations on earth - is one place where the two worlds collide. Tourists flock here; they give the begging children dollars, euros, pennies, baht. But is there a more durable, responsible way for travellers to even begin to bridge the gap, a way that ensures the dignity of both sides?

Sewing school in Siem Reap

At least one hotel in Siem Reap is approaching this in a systematic, grassroots way. And it's a five-star hotel, no less.

The stylish, boutique Hotel de la Paix - at about US$300 per night for its cheapest rooms, way beyond the dreams of most Cambodians - has a programme that helps its guests foster ties with organisations such as orphanages and schools, if they wish.

In their rooms, all patrons will find a booklet called Connections, which offers to get them acquainted with the NGOs and institutions that run such projects. Guests can also choose to provide school supplies, rice or potable water, or the hotel can help them customise their own sponsorship package.

"Some people ask why you would choose to stay in a hotel such as ours, apparently insulated from the world," says general manager Nick Downing.

"I tend to look at it from the other side. Hotels and tourism organisations such as ours help bring awareness to the country in which we operate. We are instrumental in bringing people and resources to assist the development of the country that would otherwise not happen.

"However, I don't believe in 'guilt tourism' and we do not push people to participate. All we do is present options in a subtle and non-confronting manner."

The hotel, he says, was conceived with the social context in mind.

"Hotel de la Paix was created to be a very different hotel in Siem Reap. We were created to stand out in design, service and our commitment to the community. In such a developing country, it is important to participate and play a role."

Siem Reap still having that small-town feel, it's all about creating a web of connections between locals, foreign aid workers on the ground, and travellers.

(If you're going to Angkor Wat soon and are fortunate enough to afford the Hotel de la Paix, why not pack a few old toys and clothes into your bag? The hotel will take it from there, shuttling the items to the relevant parties.)

Last year, MasterCard got in on the act too, donating one bicycle for every Hotel de la Paix room paid for with their credit card between Sept 1 and Dec 31.

The American corporation, via its Asia-wide "social responsibility" platform called Purchase with Purpose, raised funds for 397 bicycles.

The bicycles encourage children to ride to school, something they are often deterred from doing by the long distances and other family responsibilities.

"One only needs to see the joy on the children's faces to understand how much these bikes mean to them," says Elizabeth Duke, MasterCard vice-president for business expansion.

"It is a treat to watch the laughter as they ride around for the first time. The children also realise that the bikes are more than a form of transportation, and represent independence and mobility that they never had before."

The bikes have a multiplier effect, she says.

A boy from the Sangkheum Centre for Children, an orphanage, using a bike sponsored by MasterCard.

"It is the norm for children to share a bicycle, so that not just one, but up to three children in a family will use the bicycle to get to school and run errands."

MasterCard will also sponsor 10 women for the Hotel de la Paix Sewing Training Centre, says Georgette Tan, vice-president of communications.

The 10-month programme teaches women to use a sewing machine, as well as offers education on setting up a business. "The programme will also include basic financial literacy to help the women manage their finances," says Ms Tan.

A visit to charming, rapidly growing Siem Reap reveals that much can be done. And that help, hope and goodwill abound in all quarters.

A poignant case is that of 40-year-old Hom Sophart, who spent about half her life begging on the streets of Siem Reap. Her husband, recently deceased due to cancer related to alcohol poisoning, used to beat her.

She scrounged in dustbins for food for her eight children. Despite her troubles, at one point she decided to adopt - bringing nine under her wing - because she met a child who was even worse off. Sophart cannot talk about her years on the streets without weeping.

She now lives in the compound of the Green Gecko Project, which offers shelter for street children and abused women.

Green Gecko, started by an Australian, is one of the various projects supported by Hotel de la Paix. "My life is so, so much better now," she says via a translator. She can say no more because she is crying again.

Then there is 18-year-old Soy Sareth, recently graduated from the Sewing Training Centre. She now works five days a week, eight hours a day, spending half a day to make one shirt. She earns about US$30.35 a month, she says through an interpreter.

What does she do with the money she earns? "I buy food. I give the rest to my mother. We buy chickens to raise. We had no chickens before."

Because they had never had chickens, they asked their neighbours to help them do the slaughtering. Then her family set about boiling the poultry.

Did she enjoy the meal? "Yes," she says, giggling. "I plucked the feathers myself."


Temples of chic

SIEM REAP is known mostly for its proximity to Angkor Wat, the world-famous complex of ancient religious buildings. But increasingly, on its bustling and colourful streets, it's gaining recognition for its temples of designer chic.

Showcase for local talent: Rather than a lobby bar area which remained static, the designers and developers of Hotel de la Paix committed a huge central space to developing the local arts scene, with new exhibitions ever six to eight weeks.

These stores are often set up by people who, tiring of their glamorous lives in larger metropolises, have opted for the slower but warm-hearted pace of the Cambodian city.

Elizabeth Kiester, for example, was the New York-based fashion editor for Marie Claire, Mademoiselle and Jane for 15 years. She was also global concept director for Abercrombie & Fitch and global creative designer for LeSportsac.

But last year, she packed her bags to set up a shop called wanderlust in Siem Reap.

"I came to do a volunteer vacation after a gruelling month-long media tour of Asia for the launch of the Stella McCartney for LeSportsac collection," she says. "Siem Reap touched something inside of me that no place ever really had, and I decided to drastically change my life. I also recognised the amount of cool young women who were living in Siem Reap, working at hotels, cafes and NGOs and I thought, 'Where are they buying their clothes?' The idea of wanderlust was born."

The red-windowed shop displays her current cheerful, boppy range of street wear.

The store also sells items designed and made by Cambodians, such as the Nikaya line of jewellery by the handicrafts arm of NGO Journeys Within.

"It was critical to me to have wanderlust be part of the local community. I respect and admire the Khmers enormously, and I am well aware of the tragedies that have befallen this country. And I will do what I can, in whatever small way, to help get this community back up on its feet and smiling and successful again."

Ms Kiester's wanderlust is located on the Alley West near the Old Market, which is lined with trendy retailers, restaurants and boutique hotels.

On this street you'll also find Poetry, a quirky design store run by artist and photographer Loven Ramos and designer Don Protasio. Ramos, a Filipino from Manila, has lived in Siem Reap for five years. "I stayed because of the great energy that you get to create here, rather than be part of the energy that the big cities have."

Cool shops to visit in Siem Reap include Eric Raisina's atelier/studio.

Mr Ramos is just one person among an influx of artists and designers who are behind the galleries and boutiques that have seemingly popped up overnight in Siem Reap.

There is the fashion atelier by Madagascar- born, Paris-trained Eric Raisina (visits by appointment only), and art and photo galleries such as the McDermott and Tiger Lily, as well as a lounge dedicated to local artists at the Hotel de la Paix, the largest space of its kind in the city.

One of the hotel's curators is Sasha Constable, an artist herself and descendant of the famous English Romantic painter.

Ms Kiester says it's only a matter of time before Cambodian art and design gets worldwide recognition.

"When you look at something as beautiful as Angkor Wat, you fully understand the depth of the creative spirit and craftmanship of the Khmers. The art world here is taking off; we have some incredibly fine artists who are showing their works locally and internationally.

Elizabeth Kiester, former fashion editor of Marie Claire and Mademoiselle.

"Trust me, in 10 years, Cambodia will be the hot spot for international design."


This article was first published in The Business Times.