Sunday, 1 November 2009

Thirty Years On, the Holocaust In Cambodia and Its Aftermath Is Remembered
by John Pilger
Recently by John Pilger: War Is Peace. Ignorance Is Strength

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The aircraft flew low, following the Mekong River west from Vietnam. Once over Cambodia, what we saw silenced all of us on board. There appeared to be nobody, no movement, not even an animal, as if the great population of Asia had stopped at the border.

Whole villages were empty. Chairs and beds, pots and mats lay in the street, a car on its side, a bent bicycle. Behind fallen power lines lay or sat a single human shadow; it did not move. From the paddies, lines of tall wild grass followed straight lines. Fertilized by the remains of thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, these marked common graves in a nation where as many as two million people, or more than a quarter of the population, were "missing."

At the liberation of the Nazi death camp in Belsen in 1945, The Times correspondent wrote: "It is my duty to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind." That was how I felt in 1979 when I entered Cambodia, a country sealed from the outside world for almost four years since "Year Zero."

Year Zero had begun shortly after sunrise on April 17, 1975 when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge guerrillas entered the capital, Phnom Penh. They wore black and marched in single file along the wide boulevards. At one o’clock, they ordered the city abandoned. The sick and wounded were forced at gunpoint from their hospital beds; families were separated; the old and disabled fell beside the road. "Don’t take anything with you," the men in black ordered. "You will be coming back tomorrow."

Tomorrow never came. An age of slavery began. Anybody who owned cars and such "luxuries," anybody who lived in a city or town or had a modern skill, anybody who knew or worked with foreigners, was in grave danger; some were already under sentence of death. Out of the Royal Cambodian Ballet company of 500 dancers, perhaps 30 survived. Doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers were starved, or worked to death, or murdered.

For me, entering the silent, gray humidity of Phnom Penh was like walking into a city the size of Manchester in the wake of a nuclear cataclysm which had spared only the buildings. There was no power, no drinking water, no shops, no services of any kind. At the railway station trains stood empty at various stages of interrupted departure. Personal belongings and pieces of clothing fluttered on the platforms, as they fluttered on the mass graves beyond.

I walked along Monivong Avenue to the National Library which had been converted to pigsty, as a symbol, all its books burned. It was dreamlike. There was wasteland where the Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral had stood; it had been dismantled stone by stone. When the afternoon monsoon rains broke, the deserted streets were suddenly awash with money. With every downpour a worthless fortune of new and unused banknotes sluiced out of the Bank of Cambodia, which the Khmer Rouge had blown up as they fled.

Inside, a checkbook lay open on the counter. A pair of glasses rested on an open ledger. I slipped and fell on a floor brittle with coins.

For the first few hours I had no sense of even the remains of a population. The few human shapes I glimpsed seemed incoherent, and on catching sight of me, would flit into a doorway. A child ran into a wardrobe lying on its side which was his or her refuge. In a crumbling Esso filling station an old woman and three emaciated infants squatted around a pot containing a mixture of roots and leaves, which bubbled over a fire fueled with paper money: such grotesque irony: people in need of everything had money to burn.

At a primary school called Tuol Sleng, I walked through what had become the "interrogation unit" and the "torture and massacre unit." Beneath iron beds I found blood and tufts of hair still on the floor. "Speaking is absolutely forbidden," said a sign. "Before doing something, anything, the authorization of the warden must be obtained."

After a while, one sound had a terrible syncopation: rising and falling day and night. Without milk and medicines, children were stricken with preventable disease like dysentery. It seemed that the very fabric of the society had begun to unravel. The first surveys revealed that many women had stopped menstruating.

What compounded this was the isolation imposed on Cambodia by the West because its liberators, the Vietnamese, had come from the wrong side of the cold war, having driven America out of their country in 1975. Cambodia had been the West’s dirty secret since President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger ordered a "secret bombing," extending the war in Vietnam into Cambodia in the early 1970s, killing hundreds of thousands of peasants. "If this doesn’t work," an aide heard Nixon say to Kissinger, "it’ll be your ass, Henry." It worked in handing Pol Pot his chance to seize power.

When I arrived in the aftermath, no Western aid had reached Cambodia. Only Oxfam defied the Foreign Office in London, which had lied that the Vietnamese were obstructing aid. In September 1979, a DC-8 jet took off from Luxembourg, filled with enough penicillin, vitamins and milk to restore some 70,000 children – all of it paid for by Daily Mirror readers who had responded to my reports and Eric Piper’s pictures in two historic issues of the paper which sold every copy.
Following on from the Mirror, on October 30, 1979, ITV broadcast Year Zero: the silent death of Cambodia, the documentary I made with the late David Munro. Forty sacks of post arrived at the ATV studios in Birmingham, with £1 million in the first few days. "This is for Cambodia," wrote an anonymous Bristol bus driver, enclosing his week’s wage. An elderly woman sent her pension for two months. A single parent sent her savings of £50. People expressed that unremitting sense of decency and community which is at the core of British society. Unsolicited, they gave more than £20 million. This helped rescue normal life in faraway country. It restored a clean water supply in Phnom Penh, stocked hospitals and schools, supported orphanages and reopened a desperately needed clothing factory.

Such an extraordinary public outpouring broke the US and British governments’ blockade of Cambodia. Incredibly, the Thatcher government had continued to support the defunct Pol Pot regime in the United Nations and even sent the SAS to train his exiled troops in camps in Thailand and Malaysia. Last March, the former SAS soldier Chris Ryan, now a best-selling author, lamented in a newspaper interview "when John Pilger, the foreign correspondent, discovered we were training the Khmer Rouge in the Far east [we] were sent home and I had to return the £10,000 we’d been given for food and accommodation."

Today, Pol Pot is dead and several of his elderly henchmen are on trial in a UN/Cambodian court for crimes against humanity. Henry Kissinger, whose bombing opened the door to the nightmare of Year Zero, is still at large. Cambodians remain desperately poor, dependent on an often seedy tourism and sweated labor.

For me, their resilience remains almost magical. In the years that followed their liberation, I never saw as many weddings or received as many wedding invitations. They became symbols of life and hope. And yet, only in Cambodia would a child ask an adult, as a twelve-year-old asked me, with fear crossing his face: "Are you a friend? Please say."

October 31, 2009

John Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London, he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His latest book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire.

VN condemns removal of border demarcation poles

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

HA NOI — Viet Nam has responded strongly to the removal of six temporary border demarcation poles. The poles were to identify Marker No 185 along the border between Viet Nam and Cambodia. The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry blamed Sam Rainsy, President of the Sam Rainsy Party, for the act, describing it as arrogant.

Through spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga, the ministry said the act had damaged the common asset of both Cambodia and Viet Nam, violated the laws of both nations as well as their signed treaties, accords and agreements.

The ministry also said the act hindered the joint border demarcation and marker planting process. Spokeswoman Nga was responding to media queries about Sam Rainsy’s removal of the poles in the border demarcation area between Viet Nam’s Long An Province and Cambodia’s Svay Rieng Province and taking them to Phnom Penh.

"Mr Sam Rainsy also slanderously said on October 25 that Viet Nam had been occupying Cambodia’s land through the process of border demarcation and marker planting," she said.

"Sam Rainsy’s slanderous statements lacked common sense and were irresponsible, and aimed to ignite animosity and sabotage relations between Viet Nam and Cambodia."

The spokeswoman said the two countries were speeding up work on border demarcation and marker planting. Safeguarding temporary poles and border markers was the obligation of the governments and people of both nations.

"The Vietnamese Government vehemently condemns Mr Sam Rainsy’s acts and statements, and requests the Cambodian government take appropriate measures against all acts of sabotage, thus ensuring border demarcation and marker planting work along the Viet Nam-Cambodia border is carried out smoothly," Nga said. — VNS

Thailand and Cambodia Argue About Thaksin

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Article: Richard S. Ehrlich

Thailand and Cambodia Argue About Thaksin & the Coup

by Richard S. Ehrlich

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand and Cambodia have descended into a loud political feud about Bangkok's 2006 coup, and Thailand's current threat to demand the extradition of its fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The rift between the two Buddhist-majority nations in the heart of Southeast Asia was expected to worsen if Mr. Thaksin accepts Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's surprise offer of a temporary house.

"There is an extradition process," warned Thailand's powerful Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban on Tuesday (October 27).

"The turmoil following Cambodian leader Hun Sen's remarks, about ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra being welcome in his country, has thrown the government into a spin," the Bangkok Post newspaper, which opposes Mr. Thaksin, reported on Tuesday (October 27).

Ratcheting up his rhetoric, Mr. Hun Sen compared Mr. Thaksin to Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has languished under house arrest in Rangoon for 14 years.

"Many people are talking about Mrs. Suu Kyi of Burma. Why can't I talk about the victim, Thaksin?" Mr. Hun Sen said on October 23.

"That cannot be regarded as interference by Cambodia into Thai internal affairs. Without the coup d'etat in 2006, such a thing would not have happened," Hun Sen said.

Soft-spoken Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lashed out Mr. Hun Sen's remarks.

"There are few people in the world who believe Thaksin is similar to that of Mr. Suu Kyi," Mr. Abhisit said later that day.

"I hope Prime Minister Hun Sen will receive the right information and change his mind on the matter."

Cambodia's government spokesman Phay Siphan said on October 23: "Cambodia has a right to offer Thaksin to visit Cambodia, and we have no obligation to send him back to Thailand."

If "former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra wishes to travel to Cambodia anytime...the Cambodian prime minister is ready to prepare a residence for [his] stay in Cambodia," reported Cambodia's government-run TVK television on October 22, according to Agence- France Presse.

Mr. Thaksin has been an international fugitive, based mostly in Dubai, dodging a two-year prison sentence for a conflict of interest.

That conviction involved a Bangkok real estate deal -- for his now divorced wife -- which was arranged when he was prime minister.

Mr. Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 when most voters elected the billionaire telecommunications tycoon, hoping he would boost the economy and modernize Thailand.

Mr. Thaksin was removed in September 2006 by Thailand's U.S.- trained military in a bloodless coup when they used tanks, armored personnel carriers, Humvees and other weapons to seize power.

He has unsuccessfully tried to return to power with the help of allied politicians, and get back his two billion U.S. dollars worth of assets which the coup leaders froze.

International human rights groups, however, want Mr. Thaksin investigated for his role in the alleged extrajudicial murder of more than 2,000 people during his government's "war on drugs."

Mr. Thaksin remains politically active in self-exile.

He helps lead a mass movement of so-called "Red Shirts" who claim to represent Thailand's majority lower classes, especially in the countryside.

Together they demand an immediate election, expecting Mr. Thaksin's allies to win.

They are opposed by the "Yellow Shirts" who claim to support Thailand's urban middle class and constitutional monarchy.

Led by Sondhi Limthongkul, the Yellow Shirts blockaded Bangkok's international and domestic airports in November 2008 for eight days, stranding more than 300,000 people worldwide.

Their blockade helped weaken a government allied to Mr. Thaksin, and paved the way for Parliament to elect Mr. Abhisit.

Mr. Abhisit's fragile coalition government enjoys the military's support, and much of his personal security is handled by the military.

Thailand's wealthy elite have mostly thrown their weight behind Mr. Abhisit as well, and appear nervous about Mr. Thaksin and the Red Shirts plotting to destabilize Bangkok.

Cambodia's prime minister has thrown a wild card into this dangerous mix, apparently hoping to attract big investments by Mr. Thaksin and weaken Bangkok's strategy over a smoldering border dispute, according to some analysts.

"It is true that I would invite former Prime Minister Thaksin to visit Cambodia anytime, and to be my economic advisor," Mr. Hun Sen said on October 22.

Thailand and Cambodia are former war-time enemies -- and current investment partners -- so the stakes are high for all sides to quell their public sniping.

Occasional killings on both sides have continued in and around the ancient stone ruins of Preah Vihear, a Hindu temple on the Thai- Cambodian border.

That dispute dates back to the 1950s, and continued even after the International Court in the Hague, Netherlands, confirmed Cambodia's ownership in 1962.

The conflict flared again after the ruins were declared a World Heritage Site in July 2008 by the World Heritage Committee, based on Cambodia's proposal to cash in on its tourism potential.

Thailand and Cambodia have suffered much worse relations in the past.

After Richard Nixon became president of the United States in 1969, he used Thailand as one of several military staging areas for heavy aerial bombing raids against communists in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, until America's wars ended in 1975 -- one year after Nixon's presidency -- with the U.S. defeated in all three countries.

Washington and Bangkok later indirectly backed Cambodia's communist Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, when his jungle-based guerrillas were in a loose alliance with other Cambodian rebels fighting against Vietnam's 1979-1989 occupation of Cambodia.

Thai and Cambodian politicians have been fleeing to each other's country for the past 50 years, seeking sanctuary from coups, arrest warrants, and other threats.

In 1957, when Thai dictator Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat unleashed a military coup against Prime Minister Phibun Songkram, the toppled leader fled Thailand for Cambodia in his Ford Thunderbird car.

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is

Construction of first Cambodia bourse to begin
Venture with Korean investors to get boost

Published: November 1, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Phnom Penh: Cambodia expects to begin construction in December on its first stock exchange, a government official said, giving momentum to a long-delayed joint venture with South Korean investors.

"We expect to have the ground-breaking ceremony in December," Mey Vann, director of the financial industry department at Cambodia's Ministry of Economy and Finance, said.

The idea of a Cambodian stockmarket has been floated since the 1990s but has struggled for traction in a country known for chronic poverty and a history of upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields".

Cambodian authorities have partnered with private South Korean developer World City Co Ltd to build a $6 million (Dh22 million), four-storey stock exchange on the waterfront of a new financial district, Cambodian and World City officials have said.

The area where the stock exchange will be built is flooded swampland on the edge of Boeung Kak Lake in the heart of the Phnom Penh.

The end of the rainy season last month clears the way for workers to begin building the exchange on the corner of what developers are calling Phnom Penh Boulevard.

"The site is under a flood these days. We are pumping the water from the site," said Vann, adding he expected construction to take between eight months and one year.

The bourse was supposed to open in September, a target set last year when South Korea's stock exchange operator agreed with the Cambodian government to set up and run a joint stock exchange.

But the global financial crisis intervened, ending an unprecedented boom which saw Cambodia's economy expand 10 per cent annually in the five years up to 2008.

Foreign investment collapsed, tourist arrivals fell by double digits and garment exports, a mainstay of the economy, shrank by 15 per cent.

Student at Long Beach's Wilson High fatally shot after homecoming game

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / October 31, 2009
Melody Ross, a pole vaulter, was well-liked and had a positive attitude, friends say.

Friends and classmates gather at a makeshift memorial near the football stadium where Melody Ross was shot. Police say no arrests have been made. "I'm sick to my stomach when something like that happens," the football coach said. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / October 31, 2009)

Honors student Melody Ross, 16, was killed and two others wounded in Friday's gunfire. Friends and family gather at a makeshift memorial near campus to remember her life.

By Ruben Vives and Ben Bolch
November 1, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Reporting from Long Beach Ben Bolch and Los Angeles -- The "Supergirl" Halloween costume that 16-year-old Melody Ross wore to the Wilson High School football game was befitting of her promising resume: honors student, pole vaulter and athlete, positive attitude, aspirations to attend UCLA.

Those were the attributes that Ross' friends and family recalled Saturday as they gathered near the stadium gates at the Long Beach campus. They placed flowers and votive candles at the spot where she was fatally shot Friday night as she and her friends were leaving the Wilson homecoming game against Polytechnic High School.

The daughter of Cambodian immigrants, Ross died at St. Mary's Hospital at 10:30 p.m., half an hour after she was shot, said her uncle, Sam Che.

Two men, ages 18 and 20, were wounded in the gunfire and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. They are not believed to be students at either school, and their identities were not released.

No arrests have been made, police said.

Classmates and school officials expressed disbelief over the death of a well-liked student.

"It's very disconcerting. I'm sick to my stomach when something like that happens and you have an innocent kid involved," said Wilson football coach Mario Morales. He said he heard five to seven shots as he was leaving the stadium after his team's 34-15 loss to Poly.

"She was an all-around good person," Demitrius Torres, a 16-year-old classmate, said of Ross, with whom he sat during the homecoming game. He had befriended her last year when the two had a history class together. "She was the only one who got my jokes."

Demitrius, who joined other students at a makeshift memorial along Ximeno Avenue across from the stadium, had said goodbye to Ross after the game and left to go home. Like other students, he didn't know how to express his feelings over the senseless death.

Tiffany Ford, a 17-year-old senior and Bruin cheerleader who had recently become friends with Ross, described her as a "nice, bubbly and giggling person."

After learning of Ross' death from a mutual friend's text message Saturday morning, Tiffany said she was "just broken up. I was crying."

"You are talking about a girl who had a positive attitude," said Patrick Merola, 17, a close friend of Ross' sister, Emily, a senior at Wilson. "She was a very good person. I loved her."

Students on Saturday hugged each other and some sat with their heads down, pondering the loss of a friend. A passerby in a green Toyota truck yelled out: "Police need to do their job!"

"The Long Beach Unified School District extends its deepest sympathies to Ross' family, friends and teachers," said district spokesman Chris Eftychiou.

Extra security will be deployed on campus Monday, and grief counselors will be available "for any student who needs to talk about the incident," Eftychiou said.

A homecoming dance attended by about 200 students was underway on campus when the shots were fired about 10 p.m., Eftychiou said. The sparsely attended dance for a school of 4,500 students was put under lockdown while police searched for suspects, he said. Security had been beefed up for the sold-out game, which Eftychiou described as a "healthy rivalry" between the two Long Beach schools.

Authorities have not determined whether the shooting was gang-related, said Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Dina Zapalski.

Che, Ross' uncle, said their family immigrated to Southern California in the mid-1980s from Cambodia. "We escaped the killing fields," said Che, 36, hinting at the irony of his niece's death outside of a suburban high school with no history of violence. At least one bullet struck her in the side, Che said.

Times staff writer Carol J. Williams contributed to this report.

Trying to get Cambodia Town off the ground

Shops cater to the estimated 50,000 Cambodian Americans in Long Beach. Activists want businesses, through an improvement district, to pay for signs, increased security, street cleaning and landscaping in a bid to attract tourists. (Christina House / For The Times / October 24, 2009)

Long Beach provided the designation but left financial support up to businesses in the area. Many have been reluctant to sign on, but backers of the district are working hard to persuade them.

By My-Thuan Tran

November 1, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Sithea San rejoiced when Long Beach officials designated a strip of Anaheim Street the nation's first Cambodia Town in 2007. The name would celebrate the largest Cambodian population center in the country and help revitalize the gritty neighborhood, she believed.

San envisioned one day looking down Anaheim Street and seeing facades resembling ornate Cambodian temples; a large-scale shopping center where tourists could sample Cambodian cuisine and buy handcrafts; and even a museum outlining the history of Cambodian Americans in Long Beach.

But years after the official designation, the fate of Cambodia Town remains in limbo. Long Beach officials did not commit city funds to improve the area.

Backers have been struggling to persuade businesses on the 1.2-mile strip to shell out money to support a business improvement district, which is mandated by the city to pay for additional services, such as special signs, increased security, street cleaning and landscaping.

These are features that would lure investors and tourists to the area, said San, chairwoman of Cambodia Town Inc. But for businesses, many of them mom-and-pop shops hurt by the economic downturn, the extra services would mean paying $50 to $200 in extra fees per year.

"You can't blame the small businesses because they count every penny, and they don't necessarily feel the need" for the district, San said. "They are asking us, 'I already pay high taxes; why should I have to pay extra?' "

For San, a refugee who fled the killing fields in Cambodia with her family as a teenager, the answer is simple. "We should be proud to have Cambodia Town," she said. "In the U.S., we are the only place that has one."

On a recent Saturday afternoon, San and a dozen other Cambodian Americans walked down Anaheim Street to promote the district, which would run from Atlantic Avenue to Junipero Avenue.

San, who wore a navy blue Cambodia Town Inc. hat, carried a black binder containing glossy photos of ethnic districts in the area that she hoped Cambodia Town would resemble one day: Little Saigon in Westminster and Chinatown in Los Angeles.

The corridor is lined with Cambodian-owned restaurants, bakeries, markets and auto repair shops. It is also home to a hodgepodge of Latino-owned stores and Chinese and Vietnamese businesses.

The group needed about 185 businesses of the 370 along the corridor to support the district. At first, proponents reached out to owners they knew personally, and petitions were streaming in. Then they turned to businesses owned by those outside of their community. After several years of pounding the pavement, the group had 105 businesses on board.

"We're going to be more aggressive now," San said as she marched west on Anaheim Street in the beating sun, past vacant lots and drab strip malls with signs in the Khmer language. "It doesn't matter how long it takes."

Long Beach is known as the Cambodian capital of the United States. The port city is believed to have the largest concentration of Cambodians outside the home country, with an estimated 50,000, though 2000 census figures put the number at 20,000. Most were refugees who escaped the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s that claimed the lives of nearly 2 million Cambodians. Many settled around Anaheim Street, lured by its cheap housing and growing Cambodian American community.

"In the past, no one wanted to walk down Anaheim Street because it was considered a red-light district," San said. "It's a lot safer now, but we can do more. We want it to look clean and very nice to attract more people to shop."

A few steps behind San, Paul Chorn, 25, recalled that when he was younger, he hardly ventured onto Anaheim Street because of crime. But now he is proud that many Cambodian businesses have transformed the corridor into a safer, thriving area.

Chorn said the district would mean something more for his people. "With this designation, we can show that we are not people stuck in the era of genocide," he said. "We progressed for the better."

Chorn, San and several others walked into a strip mall at Anaheim and Orange Avenue. It was the third time the group had tried to get business owners in the plaza to sign the petition. Owners of a Cambodian supermarket, two restaurants, a design store and a video store have already signed up, but the group still needed the support of an Eastern herbal store, a dentist, a sandwich shop, a jewelry store and a pharmacy.

Chorn and several others walked into a pharmacy.

Michael Saing, 25, explained to Ben Mai, whose wife is a pharmacist there, why the group wanted a business improvement district.

Mai, who is Vietnamese, said he understood. "I come from Orange County, and when I drive down Bolsa [Avenue] in Little Saigon, you can see there's a lot there," he said. "For you Cambodians, you have a big community, but you don't have something to represent you."

Saing said it took 15 years to get Little Saigon started. "You have to start somewhere," he said.

But Mai said the pharmaceutical industry is struggling. "I don't know if I can make this decision right now," he said. "I'm for improvement, but it is kind of expensive."

The group left the store and continued down the street. They popped into Lily Bakery, a French patisserie that also sells Cambodian sweets. The flowery fragrance of sesame balls and breaded banana wafted through the store.

Saing greeted three women standing behind the counter in Khmer. He showed them the petition, laying his binder over the counter where packaged spring rolls lay. The women asked several questions and said they would talk to the owner.

The group continued westward, turning into a Church's Chicken and two auto repair stores. No one signed.

Next, the group walked into a Cambodian broadcasting studio, the Khmer Media Network. They were greeted by Alexander Thong, president of the studio, who invited San to sit on a black leather couch as she explained the need for the improvement district.

Thong decided to sign. "We moved to Anaheim Street to be closer to the Cambodian center," he said. "Cambodia Town is my second home from my homeland."

The group's last stop was Edith's Beauty and Barber Shop, owned by Blanca Edith Rivas, who said she doesn't have many Cambodian costumers. Many decide to go elsewhere when they learn that the shop is not Cambodian-owned, she said.

But Rivas decided to sign the petition. "I know that what Cambodians say they are going to do, they do it," she said.

The group gathered outside in the shade of Rivas' building. They were joined by Long Beach Councilman Dee Andrews, whose district includes parts of Cambodia Town. He told them to keep up the effort. The group snapped a photo.

It had been two hours, and the group got five businesses on board, including a Vietnamese pho noodle restaurant, a pizza joint and a coin-operated laundry.

"You see, it's not easy," said Richer San, Sithea's husband. But he said they weren't discouraged. The group would try again soon, he said.

He looked down the street and said he could one day see tourists streaming in from downtown Long Beach.

Miss International Queen 2009 in the Thai resort city of Pattaya

Ai Haruna, 37, from Japan, holds her trophy after winning the Miss International Queen 2009 in the Thai resort city of Pattaya, about 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Bangkok October 31, 2009. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (CAAI News Media)

Japan's Ai Haruna (L), 37, receives the Miss International Queen 2009 transsexual beauty pageant crown from 2007 winner Tanyarat Jirapatpakon of Thailand in the Thai resort city of Pattaya, about 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Bangkok October 31, 2009. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (CAAI News Media)

Ai Haruna 37, from Japan, drinks coca cola in the dressing room before competing in the Miss International Queen 2009 in the Thai resort city of Pattaya, about 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Bangkok October 31, 2009. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (CAAI News Media)

Participants in traditional dragon boats practice for the annual Water Festival boat race on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh

Participants in traditional dragon boats practice for the annual Water Festival boat race on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh October 31, 2009. The three-day race will be held from November 1-3. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAAI News Media)

Participants in traditional dragon boats practice for the annual Water Festival boat race on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh October 31, 2009. The three-day race will be held from November 1-3. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAAI News Media)

Participants in traditional dragon boats practice for the annual Water Festival boat race on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh October 31, 2009. The three-day race will be held from November 1-3. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAAI News Media)

Participants in traditional dragon boats practice for the annual Water Festival boat race on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh October 31, 2009. The three-day race will be held from November 1-3. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAAI News Media)

Long journey to a new life


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

WARWICK SMITH/The Manawatu Standard
HAPPY: Cambodian refugee Sam Put with his partner Nicky and daughter Madison

War, extreme poverty and starvation are not issues Manawatu residents face every day, but for migrants and refugees, these problems have often been part of life. Adjusting to a new homeland may not be easy, but when JONATHON HOWE spoke to 29-year-old Cambodian refugee Sam Put, he discovered that success in the face of adversity was possible.

Sam Put was just one week old when his mother carried him, his brother and a bag of rice across Cambodia's killing fields and into Thailand.

His parents were fleeing from Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime, which killed more than one million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. "My parents had to flee," Sam says. "If they'd stayed, they would have been shot or abducted to work in rice fields.

"Pol Pot's regime, they don't want anyone that could think, because they don't want leaders, they want followers."

The 14-day trek to the Thai border was a dangerous journey over mountains and across rivers. Sam's parents endured many horrors on that journey. They lost a daughter to starvation, they saw the dead and disfigured bodies of men, women and children on the side of the road, they saw babies abandoned because their cries would alert soldiers. Sam's cries led to his family being ostracised by a larger group, but his mother would not abandon him.

"She got pushed aside from the group that was leading the way," he says. "At that time, if a soldier hear you, they will pretty much kill you, and you can't tell a baby to sshh."

Sam's family was placed in the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp with tens of thousands of asylum seekers. He spent his first nine years in Khao-I-Dang, a nightmare place filled with death, violence and sexual abuse.

"For me, seeing people die of starvation felt like it was natural because I grew up with it."

He remembers soldiers raiding the camp looking for women and children to rape. "It would happen about once a week. About 10 or 20 soldiers would come in. We always kept everything packed in case we had to run.

"Looking back now, I don't know how so many people survived in that camp for such a long time."

But Sam learnt to adapt, spending most of his time looking for food and attending lessons given by elders.

Sometimes he would escape from the camp and go fishing at a nearby river, a perilous task because Khmer Rouge boats patrolled the waters.

"One night when we went we saw one guy who was caught and got decapitated.

"Although his death distressed me, we continued to fish there. It was that or my family would have starved."

Every year his family prayed they would be chosen for resettlement. Sam compares the selection process to a lottery that his family lost for eight years.

"It's just a list and if your name comes up, you get to go. If it doesn't, then you just stay there," he says. "We were there for nine years, so you can just think the amount of time we'd just wait around to go every year, hoping, hoping, hoping to go."

People were reluctant to take in big families, so Sam's parents put him and his brother forward as a separate family.

In 1989, Sam and his brother hit the jackpot and were headed for New Zealand.

Today, Sam is a polite, cheerful and confident 29-year-old family man. He works in business banking at the Bank of New Zealand and is a semester away from finishing a Bachelor of Education degree, majoring in secondary school physical education, at Massey University.

He also coaches the Takaro International soccer team, attends St Matthew's Church and plays a leading role in the Manawatu Cambodian Association. He recently celebrated the arrival of his first child, Madison Grace Put, with his Kiwi fiancee, Nicola.

His achievements have even caught the attention of staff at Wellington's Te Papa museum. Sam will feature in an exhibition called The Mixing Room: Stories from Young Refugees in New Zealand, opening in April next year, which will tell the settlement stories of refugees aged between 12 and 29 who act as leaders and mentors in their communities.

But Sam wasn't always happy. On arrival in Palmerston North, he felt trapped by his poor English, his loneliness and his lack of independence.

Sam and his brother were placed with a Cambodian family who, although kind, were no substitute for parents.

"A month felt like a decade without a family," he says.

"When I left the camp, I didn't realise that I was going so far away. I thought I could see my mum and dad whenever I wanted."

Sam's lack of English meant he needed help with basic tasks like buying books or ordering food.

"I just felt I was dumb and isolated and a burden on people.

"I felt it was harder to cope than when I was in the refugee camp, because I didn't know how to relate to this place."

Sam was most afraid of school, where he could not hide his lack of English. Some children ridiculed him for being different, and he was subjected to racism.

"I was being laughed at because I didn't really know what I was doing there," he says.

"There were names like black spot because I was real black, dumb a.... One kid called me alien, because the things I was doing were quite strange.

"In the camp, we would hunt sparrow. I did that at school and I got told off because it wasn't the norm, but for me I thought it was normal, because in the refugee camp we hunt sparrow all the time."

He also felt awed by the abundance of food and comfortable lifestyle in Palmerston North.

"I'd never seen a telly, so when I first saw a telly, I cried because I thought, `Why are these little people stuck in this TV'?"

It was a huge moment when Sam's parents came to Palmerston North about a year after he arrived.

"I can never repay what my parents done for me and that's why, in a way, I wanted to help bring them to New Zealand, because without them I wouldn't be here today."

But the problems did not stop. The feelings of isolation remained and at his lowest point he contemplated suicide.

"You've just got to be strong.

"Because of my language barrier, it was hard for me to speak it out. It's hard to tell people what was wrong if you find it hard to communicate."

Sam worked hard at his English, and when he left high school, things began to improve. He credits the turnaround to three things: tertiary study, sport and church.

He completed a sports science and coaching diploma at Universal College of Learning and started to coach the multicultural Massey International soccer side, which later became Takaro International.

"I just slowly started to become confident in who I am, to grow up and be a man and take responsibility."

Making Kiwi friends was vital for integrating into New Zealand society, he says.

"Rather than just hanging with my own people, I learnt to branch out. To me, it was getting both cultures and bringing them together to adapt."

Sam now helps other Palmerston North refugees in his roles on the Manawatu Cambodian Association and Ethnic Forum. His most recent project was organising last weekend's Cambodian Soccer tournament in Palmerston North.

"There is hope for migrants or refugees if they learn to adapt and, as a community. We try to provide them with the correct network and just promote the awareness of different people.

"They will be able to achieve what I have achieved. It's going to be hard at first, but there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Central Kitsap Students Hear How an Accordion Saved a Man From the Khmer Rouge

By Marietta Nelson
Friday, October 30, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)


It was a glimpse into evil that occurred millions of miles from their homes and decades before they were born.

Perched on a small stage in the Central Kitsap High School library on Friday, Daran Kravanh told students the story of how in the mid-1970s Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia killed his entire family and took the lives of three million more Cambodians. The Khmer Rouge ravaged Cambodia and nearly took Kravanh’s life too.

“I had a very deep visceral response,” senior Tommy Pfrimmer said. “It was so out there and so different than what we live in. It was intense.”

Pfrimmer echoed the sentiment of Elizabeth Blandin, a teacher and librarian at CKHS. She invited Kravanh and Bree Lafreniere, who told his story in the book “Music through the Darkness,” to speak to CKHS students.

“We want to bring in speakers that will expand our kids’ knowledge of the world and of other cultures,” she said.

Today the 55-year-old Kravanh is a social worker for the state of Washington and a Tacoma resident. He’s also a candidate for Cambodian prime minister with the Cambodian Anti-Poverty Party. The election will be held in 2013.

He and Lafreniere, a social worker for Head Start in Bremerton, are trying to get Kravanh’s story made into a movie. And they talk about it whenever they get the chance.

“The message that we want to bring to you today is to love and keep peace always,” Lafreniere told the students.

Kravanh’s story begins during peaceful times, before the Khmer Rouge, when he taught himself to play his older brother’s accordion. The accordion isn’t exactly a traditional instrument in Cambodia, Kravanh was drawn to it.

The Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in 1975. Cities were emptied; intellectuals, artists, government officials and educated people were executed. If you wore glasses, the Khmer Rouge labeled you as “educated” and you were immediately killed. Books and musical instruments were destroyed. Music was illegal. Children were trained to spy on and turn in their parents for misconduct. Everyone was forced to be educated into the “Angkar” or “Big Brother” way, Kravanh said.

After his family was killed and he fled his home, the 21-year-old Kravanh spent eight months in the forest trying to survive. Near death from starvation, Kravanh and other survivors turned themselves over to the Khmer Rouge. One day, Kravanh was assigned to chop up log for a Khmer Rouge leader’s house. When he finished, he walked into the nearby forest. Unbelievably, he found an accordion on a tree stump. Playing the instrument soothed him in the ensuing years.

In 1978, while Kravanh was working as a grave digger for the Khmer Rouge, he was told that he would be executed. That night, despite the ban on music, Kravanh began to play every song he knew. A Khmer Rouge soldier sent to kill him heard the music and asked Kravanh to teach him how to play. Kravanh did and the solider left without killing him.

After the Khmer Rouge’s reign in Cambodia ended, Kravanh spent several years in a refugee camp in Thailand. He made his way to the United States in 1988. He and Lafreniere met in 1990 when she worked with refugees who were served by Catholic Community Services in Tacoma.

On Friday, Kravanh played several songs on an accordion for the CKHS students, tearing up and unable to speak after one piece he wrote honoring his dead parents. One student asked whether it was the accordion he found so long ago in the forest. No, Kravanh said, after more than 30 years it’s not usable anymore. But he still has that instrument at his home in Tacoma.

P. Penh 'must justify refusal'

Published: 31/10/2009

(Posted by CAAI Newws Media)

Cambodia has the legal right to reject Thai requests for the extradition of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra if he sets foot there, but Phnom Penh must justify any such decision, says Attorney-General Chulasingh Vasantasingh.

Mr Chulasingh made the remark in response to the recent announcement by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that he would not extradite Thaksin to Thailand if the convicted former premier moved to Cambodia.

Thailand and Cambodia have signed an extradition treaty, but either government has the right not to approve an extradition request, Mr Chulasingh said.

Any refusal to extradite a criminal under the treaty's terms must be given an explanation that meets international standards, he said.

If Thai authorities are informed that Thaksin is residing in Cambodia the Office of the Attorney-General will seek his extradition, if asked to do so by police and the Foreign Ministry.

Care must be taken not to overreact to Hun Sen's recent remarks about Thaksin, warned Chart Thai Pattana Party spokesman Watchara Kannikar.

The government and the Foreign Ministry should not respond aggressively to the comments, or stir up nationalism, either of which could worsen bilateral relations, Mr Watchara said.

He also urged Puea Thai Party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to remember when engaging in negotiations and political activity that he is Thai.

Gen Chavalit made a trip to Cambodia on Oct 21 where he met Hun Sen.

He said the trip was a private effort to help improve relations with Cambodia which have soured over the Preah Vihear temple dispute. But critics said the visit was a move to discredit the Democrat-led government.