Monday, 8 March 2010

Explore Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains with Khiri Travel

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Khiri Travel has launched small group tours to Cambodia's Cardamom mountains, one of the largest tropical forest wilderness areas in Southeast Asia. The township of Chi Phat in the Cardamoms is emerging as a new adventure destination for mountain biking, trekking, kayaking, wildlife spotting, bird watching and waterfall discoveries.

"The southern Cardamom mountains are an exceptionally beautiful area," said Frans Betgem co-founder of Khiri Travel, which specializes creating innovative itineraries in Thailand and Indochina. "The locals can see the longterm benefit of turning from logging and hunting to ecotourism. Backpackers are arriving. Although Chi Phat is not an easy proposition at the moment, Khiri Travel has started to include it on specialist tours through Cambodia."

In April, Khiri Lotus, the division of Khiri Travel that specializes in mid-priced soft adventure travel for small groups, will take a group of Dutch students to visit Chi Phat as part of a two-week Laos-Cambodia overland trip. In Chi Phat the group will ride mountain bikes into the mountains and plains of the Cardamoms. They will visit the 300-plus year old archaeological site of the Khmer Lue tribe which left behind giant jars associated with funeral rites. The mountain bike trail passes through deep forest, grasslands, rivers, streams and an elephant crossing area. The bikers will stop at the Teuk Vet waterfall and a cave with a large bat colony. Accommodation is in a guest house.

Khiri Travel is supporting the efforts of the Wildlife Alliance which started the community-based ecotourism (CBET) project in Chi Phat in 2006. Chi Phat, which comprises four villages on the banks of the Phipot river, received around 829 tourists in 2009.

The Cardamom mountains of southwest Cambodia are a biodiversity hotspot. They are one of the last remaining elephant corridors and large predator ranges in the region. The mountains host more than half of Cambodia's 2,300 bird species and are home to 14 globally threatened mammal groups. The Cardamoms also contain a broad variety of landscapes and ecosystems ranging from dense evergreen rainforest to lowland swamp forests, elevated grasslands and coastal mangroves.

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Mar 8th, 2010
by Guy De Launey

LEANG DEY (CAMBODIA), March 8 (NNN-ADB) — Thav Heat’s home looks idyllic. Her stilted, wooden house looks out onto verdant rice paddies. Oxen lumber past, heavily laden carts trundling behind as they make their way down the tree-lined, red dirt road.

But life is not as rosy as it may seem, Thav Heat says. “It can be very tough to feed my four children, especially in the rainy season.” As a widow, the onus is on her to make sure nobody in the family goes hungry and to put the children through school.

Women across Cambodia face a similar challenge?with husbands absent because of death, divorce, or migration for work. But at new women’s development centers, women like Thav Heat are learning how to earn more money, making life in Cambodia’s countryside that much sweeter.

Ing Kantha Phavi, Cambodia minister for Women?s Affairs, cuts a no-nonsense figure as she walks around her Phnom Penh office, explaining how many women in Cambodia find it hard to make the money they need.

Poor education and a lack of skills are the obvious obstacles, while obligations at home may prevent women from traveling to find work. They also face a struggle to access information that may help them set up a small business or get the training that would improve their employment prospects.

Without the contribution of female Cambodians, Ing Kantha Phavi says, the economy would be struggling. “The informal sector is very important,” says the minister. “It provides 60% of [gross domestic product] GDP?and employs more than 80% of working women.”

“Women are also important in the garment sector,” Ing Kantha Phavi says. “They need to be taken seriously.”

In terms of jobs for women, there is little outside of “blue jeans and grass”; that is, the production lines at the garment factories in and around Phnom Penh or else agriculture. Domestic work in private households is one other option.

But Ing Kantha Phavi’s ministry has been working on a number of projects to create more opportunities, among them, women?s development centers.

These facilities?overseen by the ministry, and supported by partners including ADB and the International Labour Organization?train women in life skills and marketable skills, like entrepreneurship classes. They also offer easy access to microcredit.

Women?s development centers enhance existing skills to help clients improve their livelihoods.

The opening of a women?s development center in the village of Leang Dey has brought Thav Heat a new outlook on her life. At the center, she not only learned new mat-weaving skills, but also how to produce bags and purses that can be sold in the souvenir shops of Siem Reap, the town.

On this rainy weekday afternoon, the center is an atmosphere of quiet concentration. Women sew bags together, their treadle-powered machines making barely a sound. Even if there were a power cut, they would be able to carry on working. Another group measures material for bag linings. Children watch as their mothers use rulers to straighten out the straw, readying it for weaving.

“People used to spend up to 6 days making one mat?and then they would sell it for $5. Lots of labor, to make very little money,? says Uch Sarom, ADB management and training advisor at the center. ?Now they can make $3 or $4 dollars a day depending on how fast they work. We are teaching them marketing and design at the same time, and also giving general business training”

Her new skills mean that Thav Heat can stay close to home while earning the extra money her family needs. Even the raw material for the bags she makes, a grass known locally as ronchek, grows right on her doorstep.

“It has made a big difference,” she says. “My family?s standard of living will be much better than before. And it is good to have a steady job close to home, because I have my young children and elderly mother to look after. If they need me, I can go to help immediately.”

Thav Heat hopes her daughter will be able to join in the work when she is old enough, instead of moving away to find a job. The women?s development center has made that a possibility.

If the program’s encouraging early results continue, it will have performed an important service: giving Cambodian women the tools to make a sustainable living. — NNN-ADB

Hun Sen slams ASEAN's Surin for comment on rocket launcher test+

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PHNOM PENH, March 8 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday slammed Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for a critical comment he made on a rocket launching test by Cambodia.

Hun Sen said Surin, a former Thai foreign minister, is not suitable to be secretary general of the grouping, saying his remarks were "interfering with the internal affairs of Cambodia," which is a member state of ASEAN.

Surin was quoted by Malaysia's official Bernama news agency as saying that "Cambodia might have signaled as though the region was unstable" by conducting the test. He added, "We are concerned with such a development."

Hun Sen warned that he will raise the issue of the role of the ASEAN secretary general at the grouping's upcoming summit to be held next month in Vietnam.

Cambodia last Thursday fired 215 rounds from a Russian-made rocket- launching system in Kompong Chhnang Province, about 90 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen called the move a routine military drill and said it is not intended to show Cambodia's military muscle to any country.

Cambodia has been locked in a territorial dispute with Thailand since 2008 and there have been sporadic military clashes between the two countries along their border.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cambodia Tourism Up 13 Percent, But Thais May Turn Away

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Tourist arrivals in Cambodia soared 13 percent in the first half of 2008, but the tourism minister warned Tuesday that Thais may avoid the kingdom as...

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PR Log (Press Release) – Mar 08, 2010 – PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Tourist arrivals in Cambodia soared 13 percent in the first half of 2008, but the tourism minister warned Tuesday that Thais may avoid the kingdom as a border dispute drags on. Ministry of Tourism statistics showed that nearly 1.1 million foreigners, including 67,502 from neighboring Thailand, entered Cambodia from January until June, up 13 percent on the same period last year.

"This is a satisfactory increase," Tourism Minister Thong Khon told AFP. But he said arrivals of Thai tourists were expected to drop after a territorial dispute on their joint border over land near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which was listed as a UN World Heritage Site last month.

"We don't expect many more Thai tourists to come because they cannot go see the Preah Vihear temple," Thong Khon said. Cambodia closed the border crossing from Thailand to Preah Vihear in late June, ahead of the July 15 arrest of three Thai nationalist protesters who tried to illegally cross into Cambodia to reach the temple.

The incident sparked a military stand-off, and more than 1,000 Thai and Cambodian soldiers are now stationed on a patch of disputed land near the ruin. The tourism ministry did not say how many Thais entered Cambodia at the Preah Vihear crossing this year. Of all international visitors, more than half flocked to Cambodia's famed Angkor temples in northwestern Siem Reap province, the ministry said.

Those World Heritage-listed ruins have been key in reviving Cambodia's tourism sector since 2003, when a regional SARS panic and anti-Thai riots in the country's capital Phnom Penh drove visitor figures into the ground.

But the government has also begun planning a number of tourism initiatives as part of a broader plan to both keep foreigners in Cambodia longer, and develops some of the country's more impoverished areas.Tourist arrivals to Cambodia topped two million in 2007, and the sector remains one of the few sources of foreign exchange for the country, where millions live in poverty after decades of civil strife.

Cambodia's government must protect victims of sexual violence as reports of rape increase

Amnesty International's report includes 30 interviews with Cambodian women and girls
© AP/PA Photo/Heng Sinith

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8 March 2010

Survivors of rape in Cambodia face limited access to justice, medical services and counselling, Amnesty International said in a report issued on Monday, as rapes of women and girls appear to be increasing,

Breaking the silence: Sexual violence in Cambodia, issued to mark International Women's Day, exposes how corruption and discrimination within the police and courts prevent survivors of rape from receiving justice and required assistance, while most perpetrators go unpunished.

"Dozens of survivors told us that they face extortion, ignorance and disbelief from officials whose job it should be to assist them and protect their rights," said Donna Guest, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Deputy Director. "For too many survivors of rape, the pursuit of justice and medical support adds further distress to the initial abuse."

Amnesty International researchers found sex workers and women living in poverty faced serious obstacles in seeking justice and medical services. They were unable to pay bribes which were often required of them from the police and others, and could not afford legal or medical services.

The report includes 30 interviews with women and girls aged between 10 and 40. The family of a 19 year-old girl with a learning disability explained how police officers ignored their complaint when Mony was raped in late 2009.

"The police only work if you have money, if you can pay. With around 100,000 riels [approx US$25] perhaps we could have secured an arrest, but we don't have that," said her father.

He said that Mony lived in constant fear of the perpetrator, who remained at large. The family also struggled to afford the medicine she needed, and described transportation costs to court and police as very difficult.

Cambodian society, like many around the world, exhibits deeply engrained gender discrimination that stigmatizes survivors of sexual assaults, while perpetrators, who mostly remain at large, face limited, if any, sanction.

"With the lack of social support towards victims, it is crucial that the government breaks the silence and publicly condemns sexual violence, to show that it will not tolerate such serious crimes and to acknowledge the pain of the survivors," said Donna Guest.

With a new Penal Code entering into force in late 2010, Amnesty International has called on the Cambodian government to firmly address inadequate law enforcement, extra-judicial settlements, weak prosecution and widespread corruption in cases of suspected sexual violence.

Amnesty International has also urged the government to train and equip the police, utilise female police officers, and allocate necessary budgets so that they can investigate allegations of crimes promptly, professionally and sensitively.

Data provided by police and NGOs indicates that incidents of rape are increasing in Cambodia, but the extent of the increase is hidden by a lack of monitoring and limited reporting and coordination of statistics.

Authorities should accurately obtain such information and use it to inform policy and plans of action.

"Cambodia has made important inroads into tackling gender-discrimination, with a focus on domestic violence and human trafficking," Donna Guest said. "It is time the government incorporated sexual violence against women into these categories to address its failure to meet the human rights obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women."

The 60-page report presents extensive research and recommendations to reverse increasing sexual violence against women. The analysis was released as part of Amnesty International's global campaign to Stop Violence against Women.

Read more:

Rape risk rises in Cambodia, says Amnesty International

Most Cambodians live with a weak justice system and few rights

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Human rights organisations in Cambodia have called for the government to tackle the rising incidence of rape.

A report by Amnesty International says victims have limited access to justice, medical services and counselling.

It claims that rape cases are often settled by cash payments to the victim - or bribes to the authorities.

Official statistics show a significant increase of the number of rapes reported to police last year - almost a quarter more than in 2008.

But Amnesty says the true figure may be much higher - because many victims never tell the authorities about their attacks.

Commander's block

Its report highlights a lack of faith in law enforcement officials and the judicial process.

One incident cited involved a policeman accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a karaoke bar.

His commanding officer refused to press charges - and insisted the attack could not be considered rape, as the woman had not been a virgin.

The government has acknowledged that sexual violence is a problem.

In a speech last week, the minister of women's affairs said there were increasing fears of gang rape.

She suggested that increasing access to alcohol, drugs and pornography was responsible.

Social workers say that a change in attitude towards victims of sexual violence is sorely needed.

Sun Maly runs a women's safe house in Battambang province.

"When they become victims of rape like this they become stigmatised by their own community. Especially in the case of children - when they've been sexually assaulted they drop out of school because of discrimination or embarrassment," she said.

Amnesty says that that many cases are currently settled by cash payments - or not pursued because the victim cannot afford to pay police and court officials.

It is calling on the authorities to make sure that those who commit rape or sexual violence are punished through the judicial process.

Rape of women increasing in Cambodia: Amnesty

Cambodian police stand guard in Phnom Penh. Rape of women and girls appears to be increasing in Cambodia and victims face stigma and get little justice, rights group Amnesty International said in a report to mark International Women's Day. (AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

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Sun Mar 7, 2010

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Rape of women and girls appears to be increasing in Cambodia and victims face stigma and get little justice, rights group Amnesty International said in a report to mark International Women's Day.

The report, released Monday, said there was a lack of comprehensive statistics on sexual violence in the country, but people who worked with victims believed rape was increasing and "a growing number of victims are children."

"A growing number of rape reports, including against very young girls and gang rapes, fill Cambodian newspapers," the report said.

"Most police, NGO (non-governmental organisation) workers and public officials working with the issue agree that rape is on the increase."

The report said corruption and discrimination within the police and courts often prevented rape survivors from seeking justice and medical treatment, while the perpetrators mostly went unpunished.

"Dozens of survivors told us that they face extortion, ignorance and disbelief from officials whose job it should be to assist them and protect their rights," said Amnesty International's Donna Guest in a statement.

"For too many survivors of rape, the pursuit of justice and medical support adds further distress to the initial abuse," she added.

A woman named Meas Veasna, who chose to speak out about her ordeal for the report, said authorities did little after she was drugged and raped by a Buddhist monk at a pagoda last year.

"I am feeling a lot of shame, and initially wanted to commit suicide because of what had happened. And although I reported the crime, no one has been brought to justice," she said in the report.

Amnesty interviewed 30 females aged between 10 and 40 from across Cambodia and said most were too poor to afford medical treatment or pay the bribes demanded by police for them to take action.

Poor women and girls were especially vulnerable to sexual violence because they lacked power to defend themselves before and after an assault, Amnesty said.

DAP News ; Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

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Despite Some Progresses in the Cambodian Women's Social Issues, More is Needed

Monday, 08 March 2010 08:42 DAP-NEWS/ Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH, March 8, 2010 - There has been progressed in a number of social areas for the Cambodian women as well as the legal aspect which have empowered the group to play a vital role in society in the last three terms, but still domestic violence against the group is high, said the Minister of Women's Affairs on the International Women's Day.

Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi said in her statement release to media on the event of March 8 that there considerable progresses in the areas such as women in public decision-making and politics, legal aspects, economic empowerment for women, and women's health as well as improving in education field for the group.

But the Minister noted that members of the group have been continued as victims by the domestic violence and rapes, which is still high.

"It seems over the last 15 years the domestic violence and violence against women and children are still high".

"Rape and forced sex have been on the increase, particular among minors aged from 5 to 18," she said in the release which was seen by DAP.

"There is also an increasing fear of gang rapes by teenagers, which is likely to have been caused by consumption of alcohol, drugs and pornography through the internet, mobile phones and pornographic movies."

"These issues have intoxicated the social atmosphere and damaged the public order," she said.

The Minister said that more actions need to be taken by the relevant institutions to prevent the group from being affected by such unlawful abuses.

"They are psychologically affecting our youth and creating unfavorable conditions for the next generation," she said.

"Therefore, the capacity building of young people to give them the skills they need to reach their full potential, to become active, productive, responsible with mature behavior is the responsibility of everyone including young people themselves."

She also called the government to more investments in youth given they are the future of the country's backbone.

"So investing in them is investing in human resource development and the country's development in general".

She however noticed that Cambodian women have accessed to all opportunities as the government has allowed them through the policies and the legal frameworks.

The numbers of women, who hold seat at the legislative body, have increased five folds in recent years thanks to the government's support which set the Gender Equality as a national policy.

Also there have been an increased numbers of the Cambodian women who hold top position such as secretary of states and as deputy governors.

"For the first time in our history we have deputy prime minister as woman," said the Minister said of Men Sam An who has been appointed for the post.

There are now 37 deputy governors as women in 2009, from 24 in 2008. There are 32 judges and prosecutors as women out of the total 308 judges and prosecutors, she said.

There are now 26 women as law makers at the National Assembly in 2008 from only 7 in 1993.

Local news televisions aired series of stories about the domestic violence, the move aimed at educating people not to commit such crimes.

She also saw that Cambodian women, which made up of 52 percent out of the country's total population is estimated 14 million, will have a greater impact on society in a long term given them already played a vital role in society.

"On this special day, we take the opportunity to review what has been achieved in the previous year in relation to the advancement of women and to prepare the strategy and new activities for the future."

SRP seeks time to study graft law

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Labourers on Sunday renovate the former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces headquarters, which is set to house the proposed National Anticorruption Commission.

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Monday, 08 March 2010 15:05 Sebastian Strangio and Vong Sokheng

New anti-graft bodies

National Anticorruption Commission

  • Would be based at the former RCAF headquarters in central Phnom Penh
  • Eleven members would be selected by the King, Senate, National Assembly and eight other government institutions
  • Responsible for framing government anticorruption strategies. Would report directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen
Anticorruption Unit

  • Under the aegis of the Council of Ministers
  • Would be responsible for investigating graft cases in both the public and private sectors
  • Would also maintain secret records of the personal assets of senior government officials, military officers and leading civil society activists

THE opposition Sam Rainsy Party will request a delay to this week’s scheduled debate on the government’s long-awaited anti-graft bill, arguing that it has not had enough time to study the controversial draft in detail, officials said Sunday.

The 29-page draft is scheduled for debate in the National Assembly on Wednesday, after being handed to lawmakers late last week.

Ke Sovannroth, the SRP’s secretary general, said the party planned to send a letter to the National Assembly requesting more time to look over the landmark law.

“While the ruling Cambodian People’s Party took over 10 years to draft [the law], the opposition just received [it] a few days before the meeting, and we haven’t had enough time to read and to understand the draft law,” she said.

On Sunday, Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, announced that his party’s three parliamentarians would boycott Wednesday’s proceedings to protest the rushed schedule, saying lawmakers need “at least two weeks” to study the law’s 57 articles.

“The draft Law on Anticorruption is very important, so we need more time to consult with target groups such as civil servants, businessmen and voters, because if the law passes without guarantees to their interests, our debates will be useless,” he said.

But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, dismissed the concerns, saying the debate would itself provide an open forum for discussion.

“The government has drafted a law, so they have to make a decision about that,” he said, questioning the motives of opposition lawmakers. “It is open for discussion, but they usually don’t take time to discuss the law – they just insult or harass the government.”

The draft version of the Anticorruption Law proposes the creation of an independent National Anticorruption Commission and an Anticorruption Unit under the control of the Council of Ministers.

The commission, which would consist of 11 members chosen by the King, Senate, National Assembly and eight other government institutions, would be responsible for the government’s overall anticorruption strategy and will report directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In January, Hun Sen said in a speech that the commission would be based at the recently vacated RCAF headquarters in central Phnom Penh.

A separate Anticorruption Unit, under the leadership of a senior minister, would be responsible for the day-to-day investigation of corruption inside government offices and the private sector.

According to the draft law, the unit will also coordinate asset disclosures of senior officials, including the prime minister, senators, lawmakers, military personnel and senior police officials – information that will remain sealed from the public. It will also require “the leadership” of civil society organisations to disclose their assets.

Last year, international graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Cambodia 158th on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. In Southeast Asia, only Myanmar and Laos were rated at or below Cambodia’s level.

Assessing the draft
The anti-graft bill, first proposed in 1994 but not approved by the Council of Ministers in draft form until December last year, has been subject to criticism from civil society activists, who have expressed fears that it will do little to lower the Kingdom’s endemic corruption.

A key concern pertains to how members of the proposed Anticorruption Commission would be appointed. Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said the body’s members should be chosen by an independent panel rather than by government bodies, most of which are dominated by the ruling CPP.

“We don’t want them to be appointed by the government – we want them to go through a selection committee composed of other groups,” he said, adding that the commission should report to parliament rather than the prime minister.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the passage of the Anticorruption Law would be a positive step, but that it would ultimately give the government fresh powers that could be open to abuse.

“I think the law will certainly give the government a lot more control. The question is whether it will also give the ruling party more control,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword – on the one hand you want [the law], but on the other it gives the government a lot more control over its citizens.”

Ou Virak said the law would likely be used to prevent corruption “from getting out of control” and harming the interests of the ruling party, much like laws that have been enacted – and implemented to a degree – by the ruling parties in China and Vietnam.

He said, however, that the government’s ingrained system of patronage would remain intact, and that implementation would vary with changes in the political climate. “Overall, [this law] is still a political document and will be implemented according to the political situation at the time,” he added.

Sek Borisoth, director of the anticorruption programme at PACT Cambodia, said the law was a “good step”, but added that all pieces of legislation are subject to a lengthy delay between introduction and full implementation.

“It takes some time – even in other countries. In Cambodia [the gap] is even clearer,” he said. “We need to set up new mechanisms and reform existing mechanisms in order to establish the implementation of the law.”

Legislation in the Anticorruption Law would not be implemented until at least November, when the Kingdom’s new penal code comes into effect. The code contains many of the charges under which corruption cases will be prosecuted.

Officials reject ASEAN concerns

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A soldier salutes Minister of Defence Tea Banh in Kampong Chhnang province on Thursday. Cambodian officials on Sunday rejected concerns, reportedly voiced by ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, that the purpose of last week’s military tests was to provoke Thailand.

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Monday, 08 March 2010 15:05 Cheang Sokha and James O’toole

GOVERNMENT officials on Sunday rejected the notion that military exercises held last week in Kampong Chhnang province were designed to provoke neighbouring Thailand, re-sponding to comments reportedly made by ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan.

On Friday, Malaysia’s Bernama news agency said ASEAN “fears that Cambodia may send a wrong signal to the world” with the exercises, citing an interview with Surin, a former Thai foreign minister.

“We are very concerned with such development,” Surin was quoted as saying while in Bangkok last week. Asked to elaborate on his concerns, Surin said: “I have no details. I have to look into the details first.”

In a letter addressed to Surin and dated Sunday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong took aim at the secretary general’s comments, saying that the rocket launch “would in no way send wrong signals that the region is unstable”.

“I strongly believe that in your capacity as secretary general of ASEAN, you should not make any wrong statement which may bring about a bad image to an ASEAN member country,” Hor Namhong wrote. “Moreover, you should not make any statement which can be considered as an interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia.”

On Thursday, Cambodia test-fired 200 rockets from BM-21 rocket launchers in Kampong Chhnang province. The test came after Thailand conducted military exercises in its Surin province, which borders Cambodia, in January and February, though Prime Minister Hun Sen insisted it was unrelated to the countries’ ongoing dispute.

“This is not to flex our military muscle – it is a typical exercise to prepare the military to defend the nation from any incursion,” he said Thursday.

Thai officials, including Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, said last week that Cambodia was well within its rights to test-fire the rockets.

“I don’t believe the test is intended to threaten the Thai military, as I understand that it is a normal military exercise,” the Bangkok Post quoted Abhisit as saying.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Sunday that Bangkok had no response to Surin’s comments.

“That’s the secretary’s comment. We are not going to comment on the secretary’s comments or opinion,” he said.

Hor Namhong said the government had chosen Kampong Chhnang, in central Cambodia, “in order to avoid any wrong understanding and comments” that the exercise was related to the disagreement with Thailand.

“Normally and in principle, an ASEAN secretary general should exercise some self-restraint while making any comment or statement concerning an ASEAN member country,” Hor Namhong wrote in the letter.

Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said last week that Thursday’s launch was in line with Hun Sen’s aggressive posture towards Thailand over the past few months, which he called “out of step” with diplomatic norms.

“Everyone in ASEAN holds their nose and says, ‘This is a bad odour,’” Thayer said. “I can’t imagine any ASEAN country being sympathetic to him.”

Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said, however, that any discord within ASEAN was attributable to Thailand, not Cambodia.

“I think any instability that exists in the region is not caused by the Cambodian exercise, but by Thailand sending its troops to invade Cambodian territory,” Chhum Socheat said, referring to the countries’ ongoing dispute over territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple complex.

In his letter to Surin, also sent to his fellow foreign ministers within ASEAN, Hor Namhong said Cambodia had no intention of becoming the aggressor in the disagreement.

“The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces will never undertake any action against any country. Their job is solely to protect Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hor Namhong wrote.

Rainsy lawyer to ask to delay hearing

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Monday, 08 March 2010 15:05 Tep Nimol

THE lawyer for Sam Rainsy Party president Sam Rainsy said Sunday that he would seek to have the president’s upcoming appearance at Phnom Penh Municipal Court delayed.

Sam Rainsy was summoned to appear in court on Tuesday to answer questions relating to charges of falsifying public documents and spreading disinformation, which were filed by government lawyers last month.

Attorney Chuong Chou Ngy said he would appear in court alone on Tuesday and apply to have the case delayed for an unspecified period.

“I will hand in a requisition for the delay on that day, because my client is not in Cambodia,” he said, adding that he was unsure whether the request would be accepted by the court.

“For such cases that involve politics, I’m not sure if I will be successful or not. It depends on the prosecutor, who has the right to rule on the case.”

The charges were brought after Sam Rainsy, who is currently in self-exile in France, released maps he describes as evidence of Vietnamese border incursions. In January, a court in Svay Rieng province sentenced him to two years’ prison following a related incident in which he joined villagers in uprooting temporary border posts in the province’s Chantrea district. Sam Rainsy says Vietnamese authorities illegally planted the posts on Cambodian territory.

Choun Chou Ngy’s request for a delay follows his filing of an appeal at the Appeal Court on February 25 seeking to overturn the Svay Rieng court verdict. If found guilty on both of the new charges, Sam Rainsy could face up to 18 years in prison.

Sok Roeun, the deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, declined to comment on the possibility that the hearing could be pushed back, saying he had not yet received the request from his lawyer.

RCAF families allegedly shoot at govt officials

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Monday, 08 March 2010 15:05 May Titthara

MEMBERS of military families living on protected forest land in Oddar Meanchey province on Saturday opened fire on Forestry Administration officials and physically assaulted 10 of them, officials said.

Von Bunthoeun, chief of the Forestry Administration office in Samraong town, said a group of his staff members had gone to the site to inform the families that they would be evicted, but came under attack before the message could be delivered.

“They tried to shoot us, but they shot in the wrong direction, and then they tried to beat us while we were running to our cars,” Von Bunthoeun said, adding that 10 officials had been assaulted.

Officials last week said they were seeking the arrest of a village chief and a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officer who they said had illegally convinced 200 military families to settle in the Romduol Veasna protected forest area, located in Samraong.

Mlis Hoeurt, who administers the protected forest area, said most of the 200 families had moved there since January.

He was among the officials who said they were assaulted on Saturday.

“I am lucky, because they pointed a gun at me, but when they were shooting some of the family members slapped the gun and it went in the wrong direction. Then they ran and beat me,” he said, adding that he suffered serious injuries to his head, face and leg.

“Now, I and some of the other officials living in the protected forest community have run away from home because we are afraid,” he said.

He added that the Forestry Administration had filed complaints to the Interior Ministry, Siem Reap provincial court and NGOs about the incident.

Thon Nol, the governor of Samraong, said he had lodged a complaint with provincial officials.

Mok Sovan, the top RCAF official in Samraong, said he had no knowledge of soldiers or their families committing violence against Forestry Administration officials, but said he would look into the complaints.

Watchdog slams partnerships

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela/Sovan Philong
Mobitel (left) and Canadia Bank are involved in the controversial partnerships.

via CAAI News Media

Monday, 08 March 2010 15:05 Cheang Sokha and James O’toole

NEWLY announced charitable partnerships between members of the private sector and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces constitute a “blatant violation of basic governance and transparency standards”, according to international watchdog Global Witness.

In a statement released on Friday, Global Witness said the partnerships amount to the selling-off of military units, calling on international donors to renounce the initiative.

“It is unacceptable for private companies to be financing a military renowned for its corruption and involvement in illegal activities and human rights abuses,” Global Witness campaigns director Gavin Hayman said in the statement.

The plan to which Hayman referred was first laid out in a document signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 22. In that document, prominent companies and individuals from the private sector – including ANZ Royal Bank, Bayon TV and Canadia Bank – are partnered with government offices and military units. This arrangement, government officials say, will provide military families with daily necessities such as food and shelter, though some observers fear it will leave the armed forces accountable to private rather than public interests.

Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said Sunday that Global Witness’s concerns were “groundless”.

“For the defence of the nation, there must be collaboration from all sectors, including the private sector and the people,” Chhum Socheat said. “The formation of the partnership demonstrates transparency and good management.”

Past reports from Global Witness, which have focused on corruption in resource management by government officials and their associates, have been banned by the Cambodian government. Following Global Witness’s 2007 report detailing government involvement in illegal logging, Kampong Cham provincial governor Hun Neng – brother to Hun Sen – threatened to beat any Global Witness staff who return to the Kingdom “until their heads are broken”.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said the government “never gives any value to reports from this organisation”.

“Global Witness never reports any good things from Cambodia. They are like representatives of the opposition,” Koy Kuong said.

US embassy spokesman John Johnson had not responded to a request for comment as of press time Sunday, and Chinese embassy spokesman Qian Hai said he was unfamiliar with the issue. British ambassador Andrew Mace declined to comment.

Land Dispute: Summoned villagers ask for time

via CAAI News Media

Monday, 08 March 2010 15:04 May Titthara

Land Dispute

Six village representatives in Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district who have been summoned over a land dispute with a company owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat have written a letter to the provincial court asking that they be given more time to hold discussions with local officials. On Friday, the court summoned all six to answer to allegations that they became violent with employees of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, who last week arrived under military police escort to survey the land. The representatives have said they were camping out on the land so that it would not be appropriated by the company. “Today, we are together joining with the provincial police to send a letter to provincial court asking them to settle our problem in our district before taking the case to the court,” said Nov Chhon, one of the representatives. More than 200 families live on land in Omlaing commune that is also part of a 9,000-hectare concession to the company. Khut Sopheang, the prosecutor handling the case, declined to comment on the representatives’ letter on Sunday.

Hun Sen’s Cabinet approves project to develop Anlong Veng for tourism

Photo by: Robbie Corey-Boulet
An old radio lorry in the grounds of Ta Mok’s compound in Oddar Meanchey’s Anlong Veng district last November.


via CAAI News Media

Monday, 08 March 2010 15:04 Thet Sambath

THE Cabinet of Prime Minister Hun Sen has given approval for officials to develop Anlong Veng, the Oddar Meanchey district that was the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, into a historic tourist site that will allow “national and international guests to visit and understand the last political leadership of the genocidal regime”.

Officials in Anlong Veng said Sunday they were elated that the plan had been approved by the Cabinet, which passed a sub-decree on Friday.

“We have wished to make this a tourist site for a long time now, but we did not get official approval. Now that we have official approval, our dream is coming true,” said Peuy Saroeun, deputy governor of Anlong Veng district.

“It will be useful for the people who live here. They can make a living by selling their goods to tourists in the future,” he added.

Peuy Saroeun said officials in the district planned to hold discussions soon about how to best put their development plans into action.

So Mara, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, on Sunday noted that the district already attracted both foreign and domestic tourists.

Among the most popular sites, he said, are the grave of regime leader Pol Pot, located near the Chom border crossing with Thailand, and the compound of Khmer Rouge Central Committee member Chhit Choeun, alias Ta Mok.

Pol Pot died in Anlong Veng in 1998, and Ta Mok died eight years later in detention at a military prison in the capital.Other attractions are a munitions warehouse, homes belonging to former Khmer Rouge cadres, and the fenced-off area where Pol Pot spent his last months under house arrest.

Officials have been planning since 2000 to transform Anlong Veng into a showcase of the communist regime’s final days. The Tourism Ministry has picked out some three dozen sites of interest in the isolated area.

Ta Mok’s compound is currently operated by the Ministry of Tourism .

Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked Cabinet officials to compile a guidebook to the area that includes a description of his “win-win policy” to defeat the Khmer Rouge.

So Mara said he could not provide recent tourism figures for Anlong Veng, but Touch Ra, who works at the Chom border crossing, said between 400 and 500 tourists each month visited the district.

“We have 400 to 500 foreign tourists from Thailand visiting Anlong Veng each month,” he said.

Nhem En, who worked as a photographer at Tuol Sleng, the notorious secret detention facility in Phnom Penh, during the Khmer Rouge regime, said he welcomed the government’s decision to approve the development of Anlong Veng as a tourist attraction.

“I am very happy to hear this news. It will help encourage more tourists to visit here and promote people’s living condition,” said Nhem En, who is now deputy governor there.

Nhem En has long had plans to put his Khmer Rouge-era possessions – including what he says are Pol Pot’s shoes, walking stick and toilet – in a museum in Anlong Veng, though last year he decided to offer them up for sale for US$1 million. That attempt was unsuccessful.


Raids follow PM’s remarks last week on vice, gambling

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Hostesses greet a client at a karaoke parlour near Central Market last May. Phnom Penh officials say they have cracked down on vice in response to remarks last week from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

via CAAI News Media

Monday, 08 March 2010 15:04 Khouth Sophakchakrya

AUTHORITIES in Phnom Penh say they have arrested more than 100 people in multiple raids of businesses accused of hosting “raunchy dancing” and gambling, just days after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly lambasted high-ranking officials for interfering in efforts to stamp out prostitution and illicit gambling.

Ya Kim Y, a military police commander in Phnom Penh, said authorities had focused in particular on massage parlours, guesthouses and nightclubs suspected of being havens of prostitution and gambling.

“For a few days, we have cooperated with police authorities to crack down on eight nightclubs, massage parlours and karaoke clubs that offered sex, drugs and gambling,” he said.

The various police actions included raids on establishments in the capital’s Chamkarmon, Daun Penh and Tuol Kork districts, as well as on unlicenced gambling houses near schools, Ya Kim Y said.

One sting targeted Club White, in Chamkarmon district, and saw 120 people arrested, including 99 customers.

“We released the customers and the students, but the employees and the owners of those massage clubs and gambling houses we detained in custody so they can be sent to court,” Ya Kim Y said.

The owners of the accused illegal clubs could face charges related to illegal weapons possession, drug trafficking and “raunchy dancing”, he said.

The raids came after a lashing from Hun Sen, who on Thursday accused unnamed senior officials of meddling with attempts to crack down on vice, decrying a “culture of impunity”.

The police raids reportedly reached beyond the capital as well.

Tol Meng, the chief of the provincial anti-human trafficking police bureau in Kampong Cham, said his officers raided three suspected brothels, arresting at least 17 people.

“We will continue to enforce the order of the prime minister to reduce and eliminate human trafficking in the Kingdom,” Tol Meng said.

Authorities in other areas, however, say such vices have not reached their jurisdictions.

“We crack down on crimes everyday,” said Siem Reap police chief Soth Nady.

“Until now, my province has no gambling, karaoke, or pornography nightclubs that offer drugs or raunchy dancing like Phnom Penh.”

Kampong Thom vendors seek Hun Sen’s aid

Photo by: Photo Supplied
A boy sifts through the rubble after a fire in Kampong Thom province’s Stung Sen district last week.

via CAAI News Media

Monday, 08 March 2010 15:04 Kim Yuthana

VENDORS from a market in Kampong Thom province that was heavily damaged by a fire last week rallied in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in Phnom Penh on Friday to request his assistance in rebuilding their stalls.

The fire, which officials have attributed to faulty electrical wiring, tore through the main market in Kampong Thom’s Stung Sen district last Tuesday, destroying about 160 stalls. Five fire trucks were dispatched to fight the blaze, which began at about 2am and was extinguished by 4am.

There were a total of 400 stalls in the market prior to the fire.

Nam Chreng, a 45-year-old vendor, said he and 127 other vendors presented a letter at Hun Sen’s house requesting assistance, adding that a Cabinet official had accepted the letter on the prime minister’s behalf.

Another vendor, who gave her name only as Mabb, said the vendors would not be able to repair the market by themselves.

“We would like to call for Prime Minister Hun Sen to help rebuild the market for us so that we can resume our jobs again,” Mabb said.

“We believe that only the prime minister can help us, as he has helped vendors of markets in other provinces.”

Cabinet officials could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Nhem Chhunly, inspector for Stung Sen district police, on Sunday estimated that the fire caused US$530,000 in damage.

Two days after the fire, more than 100 vendors rallied in front of Kampong Thom provincial hall to ask the provincial governor to intervene.

Chhun Chhorn, the provincial governor, said Sunday that he had already finalised a report detailing the damage caused by the fire, adding that it had been sent to Hun Sen on Friday.

“The provincial authority has no money to rebuild the market, the construction of which costs about $200,000, so we will have to wait for comments on what we should do from our superiors,” he said.

Assembly reinstates Ho Vann’s immunity

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Lawmaker Ho Vann on a visit made by Sam Rainsy Party officials to the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province in January.

via CAAI News Media

Monday, 08 March 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda

THE National Assembly has restored the parliamentary immunity of opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ho Vann, more than five months after a Municipal Court judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty of defamation, an assembly official said.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Chheang Vun, chairman of the Assembly’s Commission on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Media and Information, said Ho Vann’s immunity had been restored during a meeting of the Assembly’s permanent committee.

“From today, he has gained back his immunity,” Chheang Vun said of Ho Vann.

The National Assembly voted to lift Ho Vann’s immunity in June, and he stood trial for defamation in July after 22 senior Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officials accused him of denigrating the quality of academic degrees they received from a Vietnamese military institute in an interview with a local newspaper. Judge Sin Visal cited insufficient evidence in dismissing the charge on September 22.

Ho Vann said Friday that he was “happy” to have his immunity restored, but that the process had taken too long.

“The lifting of the immunity was urgent, but the reinstatement came late,” he said. “First, I was victimised when my immunity was suspended, and I was victimised again when I received it back because it was a late process.”

Senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said in February that the permanent committee had recently received a letter from the Municipal Court and Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana explaining the court ruling.

As for the other two Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers who lost their immunity last year, Chheang Vun said there was nothing the Assembly could do because both still had cases before the courts.

“We cannot interfere in the court case,” he said.

Party President Sam Rainsy’s immunity was lifted after an October demonstration during which he joined villagers in Svay Rieng province in uprooting six temporary demarcation posts near the border with Vietnam.

Svay Rieng provincial court in January found him guilty of racial incitement and destruction of public property and fined him 8 million riels (around US$1,912). He remains abroad, though he has been summoned to appear in Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday to answer to charges of disinformation and falsifying public documents after producing maps he said were evidence of Vietnamese territorial incursions.

Mu Sochua also lost her immunity. She was later convicted of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen, a ruling she has appealed.

Three held over abuse of two elder women accused of witchcraft

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Monday, 08 March 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

THREE people arrested after they allegedly locked up two elderly women and accused them of witchcraft are facing a court investigation, police said Sunday.

Police in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district say the suspects, including the grandson of one of the victims, detained the elderly women after blaming them for a mysterious illness that afflicted the daughter of one of the suspects.

“We will send the suspects to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for interrogation over the allegations of illegal detention,” said Mak Hong, the police chief in Sen Sok district, who did not specify a court date for the trio.

Police believe the two women, who are 98 and 71 years old, were locked in a room on the upper floor of the house that they shared with one of the suspects.

Toek Thla commune police chief Pen Thol said the women were forcibly confined after one of the suspects sought the advice of a traditional doctor when his daughter fell seriously ill.

The doctor accused the two elderly women of conjuring sorcery that caused the suspect’s daughter to contract the illness, he said.

The suspect “locked the two elderly women in their own house, which made the women angry”, Pen Thol said.

“They didn’t eat anything and, due to their elderly age, it caused them to go senseless.”

It wasn’t until other family members came to Phnom Penh in early February to visit the women that they were freed, Man Sophal, a lawyer representing the victims, said Sunday.

Man Sophal said he approached the police after the son of one of the victims asked him for help on February 5.

“He said they were locked in a room and accused of witchcraft,” Man Sophal said.

The two women have recovered from their ordeal, said Pen Thol, the Toek Thla commune police chief, who estimated that the women had been locked up for “a few days”.

Suspects found guilty of illegal confinement face prison terms of between three and five years if the detention in question lasted for less than one month.

Superstitions rife
For years, officials throughout Cambodia have reported cases in which people accused of black magic and causing illness have been murdered.

Sorcery has also been stated as a motive in at least one killing that rights groups suggested was actually politically motivated.

In 2001, a man affiliated with the Sam Rainsy Party was gunned down while bathing. The man convicted in the killing told authorities he believed the politician was a “sorcerer” who dabbled in black magic. However, rights groups at the time questioned why the court didn’t explore possible political motives for the killing.

How not to protect children

A photo from rights group Licadho shows children about to be transported to the Youth Rehabilitation Centre in Choam Chao district after being caught in police street sweeps. UNICEF said the vehicle, donated to government authorities, was not used in the arrests.

via CAAI News Media

Monday, 08 March 2010 15:03 Joe Amon

UNICEF must do more to oppose Cambodia’s involuntary rehab centres.

Joe Amon

MY 8-year-old son was understandably confused earlier this month. He was sitting in my lap as I read news that the United Nations agency responsible for protecting children’s rights was being criticised for supporting Cambodian detention centres where children are subject to arbitrary detention, torture, violent beatings and other sadistic punishments. “UNICEF is torturing kids, Dad?” he asked.

Investigations by Human Rights Watch had uncovered widespread and serious abuses in Cambodia’s drug detention centres, including a “youth rehabilitation” centre run by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The news accounts were critical of UNICEF’s support for the ministry and for the youth centre at Choam Chao. UNICEF’s Cambodia office was vague and equivocal in response to the reports of torture and abuse, but no, I told my son, UNICEF was not torturing kids.

Our report was not the first to describe abuses in Ministry of Social Affairs-run centres. In 2008 a local human rights organisation had reported that guards raped women and severely beat those who tried to escape or complained about conditions. The report documented that two people, possibly more, were beaten to death by guards. As with our report, the government held no one accountable and UNICEF – which was informed of these allegations – continued its support to the ministry. The Social Affairs Ministry said that UNICEF’s support was proof that there were no abuses.

In the recent Human Rights Watch report, children described being picked up in street sweeps and taken to detention centres: “They didn’t tell me why they arrested me.... I never saw a lawyer.... They simply put me into the truck, and I arrived at Choam Chao”, one said.

The children described horrific abuses at Choam Chao. Children spoke of being given electrical shocks, beaten and forced to dance naked. One child who had been held there described the “rehabilitation” they received: “They train [kids] like soldiers to harden their bodies,” he said. “The training is to make them strong, to make them stay away from drugs.... If they fell out of line while rolling [on the ground], the guards kicked them in the head.”

In September 2009, Human Rights Watch briefed the UNICEF office in Cambodia on the abuses we had documented. They said that they were shocked and they promised to investigate. Four months later UNICEF told us that they had investigated only by asking Ministry of Social Affairs staff if the reports were true; government officials had denied the abuses. More than a month since our report has been released, UNICEF’s Cambodia office continues to say that they believe that the Choam Chao centre is “open” and “voluntary”. The Cambodian government again cited UNICEF’s support to suggest that detention centres are not mistreating kids.

The suggestion that these centres are open and voluntary defies credulity, and local reporters have quickly refuted that contention, interviewing kids who have been abused and detained against their will. “They just didn’t want us to stay on the street,” one child who had previously been held at Choam Chao told The Phnom Penh Post. “They pointed at the car, and then they pushed me in.”

Following the release of our report, many UN agencies spoke critically about the centres. WHO called them ineffective, and UNAIDS said that they would like to see all the centres closed. On February 16, the UN announced that it would provide support to the government for community-based, voluntary rehabilitation centres, provided that the government respected human rights. The announcement declared that there could be no illegal detention, abusive treatment or torture.

Unfortunately, the UN couldn’t muster the strength to say what human rights law requires them to say – that people currently detained without legal grounds should be released. Equally disappointing, they had nothing to say about the need to hold torturers accountable. This has long been the approach that UNICEF’s Cambodia office has taken: ignoring credible reports of abuses and engaging with the government, with a vague hope that the abuses will stop. Just after our report was released, UNICEF’s representative in Cambodia, Richard Bridle, explained to one reporter that UNICEF’s approach was “to look for the positive”.

Part of looking for the positive seems to be ignoring the negative, even when that includes the torture of kids. No wonder my son was confused.

I have great respect for the work that UNICEF does around the world. I would like to believe they are truly shocked by our findings, that they are looking into them, and that they will withdraw their support from the Social Affairs Ministry unless there is accountability. I had hoped that they would use their unique position to advocate for the immediate closure of all such centres and work to ensure that they are replaced by effective, genuinely voluntary, community-based alternatives. Quite simply, to make sure that children in Cambodia are protected from mistreatment and abuse.

After a series of meetings with UNICEF representatives in Phnom Penh and in New York, I am losing that hope. My son, and hundreds of children suffering from torture and ill-treatment in drug detention centres across Cambodia, are waiting for UNICEF to speak out.

Joe Amon is director of health and human rights for Human Rights Watch