Saturday, 26 June 2010

A War Revisited / "A Killing Fields survivor"

via Khmer NZ News Media

Robert Stokes
Friday, June 25, 2010

This is part of a series of articles by Westporter Robert Stokes based on his recent return to Vietnam for the first time since he covered the war from 1966 to l968 as a freelance journalist and later as a staff correspondent for Newsweek Magazine.

SIEM REAP, Cambodia -- His name is Roeum Rith, He was our guide for a tour of the temples of Angkor, a 77-square-mile site of the remains of the Khmer Empire founded in 802 A.D. by Jayavarman II, that included Angkor Wat, considered one of the archeological wonders of the world.

What I learned from Mr. Rith had little to do with an ancient civilization, but everything to do with the strength of the human spirit, the will to survive in the face of one of the worst acts of genocide in history -- and the values of life that actually count for something.

You see, Mr.Rith, a quiet, soft-spoken, English-speaking tour guide, is a survivor of Pol Pot's murderous rampage that killed an estimated two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using hammers, axe handles, spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. Some victims were required to dig their own graves.

The true story of the genocide was dramatized in a 1984 film, The Killing Fields, that told the story of Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist, and his journey to escape the death camps.

I did not cover the war in Cambodia, but like most journalists who lost friends and colleagues there, I was affected by the atrocities that occurred there. Mr. Rith's story gave me the opportunity to describe something positive that resulted from the Vietnam War and its sideshow in Cambodia. And with it, a message of hope for all those who live in the shadow of adversity as well as a lesson for those of us who take for granted the freedom and privileges we enjoy.

Mr. Rith was 7 years old when Pol Pot came to power in April 1975, following the overthrow of the U.S.-supported government of Gen. Lon Nol. He was born in the countryside far from the capitol of Phnom Penh.

"We survived," said Mr. Rith, "because my family were farmers and the government needed us to produce the rice needed to feed the population. We also lived because we were not from the professional or intellectual classes."

Despite their lives being spared, Rith and his family remained under a death sentence based on how much rice they were required to produce from each harvest.

"We had to deliver three tons of rice from every harvest," said Rith. "If not, we would be killed. There wasn't much left for us to eat. We learned to value the nourishment of insects, frogs and rats. In those days, crickets and grasshoppers were considered delicacies. Many people died from starvation and disease caused by malnutrition. "

From age 7 to 11, Rith worked in the rice paddies with his parents from dawn to after dark seven days a week. With boys his age from the local village, Rith pushed a large, ox-drawn cart through the wet paddies without help from oxen or water buffalo.

"We weren't allowed to have animals to help plow the fields," said Rith. "We did it the hard way -- with our hands. Two of us in the front to pull the wagon and four in the back to push." Rith still bears scars on both legs from cutting himself with a scythe as he harvested the rice.

During those four years of terror enforced by the Khmer Rouge, schools were outlawed. Rith's life consisted of work, sleep and little food. His only enjoyment, he remembered, was gazing at the spectacular sunrises and sunsets over his rice paddies and dreaming of "living up there in those beautiful clouds." The normal life of a child as we know it was non-existent for him.

"We lived from day to day, simply thankful to be alive," he recalled.

In l979, the communist government of Vietnam invaded Cambodia and removed Pol Pot's regime from power, but the country remained in the grip of civil war and famine for more than a decade afterward. Schools began to return in some parts of the country but not all. Life for Rith and his family remained one of hardship, long hours in the rice paddies, and little to eat.

In the l980s, the United Nations established a health and food distribution center on the Thailand border with Cambodia to help the Cambodian people survive the famine and disease that continued to ravage their land. It was on one of Rith's mother's trips to the UN aid station for food that young Rith's future would change.

"I don't remember why but I asked my mother to see if she could get me an English self-reader from the UN people," Rith said, smiling at the memory. Rith's mother brought back the book and Rith began to teach himself English literally by candlelight that same night.

Rith went back to school and eventually passed the entrance exam for university, majoring in English. He began to teach English at the university and took the exam to be a English-speaking tour guide, a job that he has had for nearly 10 years.

Today, at age 42, Rith balances a life of teaching English, providing guided tours of the Angkor temples, and running a fresh food shop with his wife of 20 years. His wife rises at 3 a.m. each morning to cook food for a local school and Rith carries it on a scooter to their shop at 5:30 before starting his other responsibilities.. He has three daughters, one of whom is engaged to be married, and like fathers all over the world worries about how he will afford the cost of the marriage.

Rith represents Cambodia's emerging middle class, a family that started out with a single motor scooter as transportation for everyone (mom, dad and three kids all sandwiched together) and now boasts a scooter for each member of the family as well as a car.

"I recently bought a car," said Rith, chuckling, "but I can't afford the gas."

In a larger sense, Rith represents an example of a man who regardless of how his life has improved, and how much adversity he has overcome, still carries the basic values of the seven year old boy of his youth who thanked his god each day for the gift of waking up to see another beautiful sunrise.

Robert Stokes, a Westport resident, covered the war in Vietnam for nearly two years in l967 and l968, first as a freelance journalist, and then as permanent staff for Newsweek magazine He later joined Life magazine, where he served as an associate editor and covered the Attica State Prison riot in 1971. In 1980, Dell published Stokes' first novel, Walking Wounded, which was based on his war experiences.

Cambodian Dreams, Far From Home

via Khmer NZ News Media

Published: June 25, 2010

The French-Cambodian choreographer Emmanuèle Phuon, fondly known as Manou during her time as a dancer with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, digs into her past in “Khmeropédies I & II.” She began training at 5 at the Royal Ballet of Cambodia; in her new two-part work, which opened on Thursday night at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, she applies Western ideas to traditional Cambodian dance.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
Chumvan Sodhachivy in "Khmeropédies I & II," Emmanuèle Phuon's work at the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

Ms. Phuon explores the idea of prayer in “Khmeropédies I,” a solo for Chumvan Sodhachivy. An agile dancer who maintains a sensual dreaminess in contrast to the rigidity of her positions, she performs in front of a grainy image that, over time, appears to be the stone face of a deity. She is also a mesmerizing actress and assumes different characters to tell a story, as a program note explains, “to amuse the gods.”

Hunching her back while coughing excessively, Ms. Chumvan Sodhachivy is suddenly elderly; a sweeter voice, yet somehow insincere, transforms her into a coquette. Dialogue is not translated — Ms. Phuon relies on the language of the body. As Ms. Chumvan Sodhachivy plays with dynamics, darting across the floor with her long hair flying or holding a pose, you begin to see how the merging of Western and Cambodian dance could work — at least kinetically — within a more potent concept.

In the second part of “Khmeropédies,” the idea starts to crack. Sam Sathya, as a teacher, finds herself at odds with her students — Chey Chankethya and Phon Sopheap join Ms. Chumvan Sodhachivy — who are eager to push the boundaries of Cambodian dance. She leads her three dancers in a series of exercises; eventually Mr. Phon Sopheap breaks away to practice his signature role, the monkey.

This time Ms. Phuon uses subtitles. As the women stand, swishing their arms backward and forward with hypnotic efficiency, Mr. Phon Sopheap, literally bouncing off the floor in his effort to flip like a silky animal, says: “Look at the women. They have it so easy.”

Within this strict world, Ms. Phuon shows the struggle between generations by staging a mini-rebellion. After Ms. Sam Sathya reaches into the folds of her purple pants to answer a pink mobile phone and leaves the stage, the others are free to jazz up their Cambodian dancing with a bit of funk.

What they come up with is watered down: movement that hints at little beyond the flash of a music video or filtered hip-hop. Instead of showing us how Cambodian dance can live in a contemporary world without losing its power, as Yasuko Yokoshi did with Japanese traditional dance in her luminous “Tyler Tyler,” Ms. Phuon creates a story about such possibilities.

It’s unsatisfying: the potential, as we see, isn’t as riveting as the real thing. Ms. Sam Sathya, ravishing in her airiness — her back forms a graceful base, her fingers arch like leaves in a windstorm, and her delicate feet hold everything in place — shows how, along with natural talent and resilience, training is everything.

Performances of “Khmeropédies I & II” continue through Saturday at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, Manhattan; (212) 868-4444,

History, culture and compassion in Cambodia

Angkor Thom in Cambodia. Courtesy of Ismat Abidi

via Khmer NZ News Media

Ismat Abidi

June 25. 2010

The flight from Melbourne to Bangkok was unsurprisingly empty. I helped myself to four seats and took an extended power nap. Notices about the 11pm curfew were scattered around the arrival terminal and the hotel circled no-go areas on the city map, mainly the central commercial district. Walking around Bangkok, however, there was absolutely no feeling of the prevailing political unrest or tension. I felt absolutely safe.

I had booked myself on a Gap Adventures 30-day Indochina tour ($1,941; Dh7,132 including accommodation, transport and breakfasts). An old school friend booked onto the same tour, which was a great last-minute surprise. With just one day in Bangkok to explore and meet my travel group for the next month, I’ll save my stories of sights, sounds and review of Gap for when I return to Thailand for the final week of my Indochina adventure.

En route to Siem Reap by bus, we made a pit stop in the Cambodian town of Poipet on the border with Thailand. It had a bizarrely huge market for a passing-through point, with knock-off goods of every kind imaginable from the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s. There may have been a few genuine brands from nearby factories, but it was hard to tell. The most prominent brand in most stalls was Manchester United. I would soon learn that United merchandise was a common theme in most stalls I passed throughout South-east Asia. The humidity hit me hard so I picked up a banana leaf fan for US$1 (Dh3.67). If you head to Cambodia, don’t bother using the local currency – the locals prefer dollars and it’s easier to manage your spending.

As the bus neared Siem Reap, the rapid development was evident, with rows of hotels on either side; all built within the past decade. Central Siem Reap was buzzing with merchants eagerly calling on us to “open your hearts and open your wallets!”. One street vendor that caught my attention was sporting a T-shirt that read “Please feed our hungry fish your dead skin”. It sounded like an interesting proposition. Ten minutes later, seven screeching girls had their feet dipped in a pool with local Suluk fish nibbling at them. If you haven’t already tried it, do. It’s much more fun than a foot scrub and cheaper, too ($3).

The next morning was an early start to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat (city of temples). Plenty of tourists had the same idea, it seemed. I spent the whole day walking around the awe-inspiring temple complex that took 37 years to build. With walls covered in carvings of myths and legends or the occasional root of a tree, it was difficult to be anything but impressed by these ruins. The occasional references to “Tomb Raider filming”, Angelina Jolie and Maddox by passing foreign tour guides was quite amusing. There are plenty of temples to explore in this 8th wonder of the world – a very good reason why multiple-day passes are issued. The admission fees are a bit steep (one-day, three-day and seven-day passes cost $20, $40 and $70 respectively). Some of the site is badly preserved for such a high entrance fee, but would I pay it again to see more of this ancient wonder? Absolutely.

My time in the capital Phnom Penh played out like unexpected emotive history lesson coupled with learning more about the strength of the Cambodian people, their kindness despite a bitter history and the resilience and drive of the younger generation. I walked through the cells of the S21 prison, a high school turned into a prison by theKhmer Rouge in the 1970s. The tour is very raw, and rightly so. Blood stains on the ceilings, bullet marks on the wall, torture implements on beds, paintings by survivors and eerie photographs of each victim’s face before being brutally tortured to death. The lack of glass cabinets or mock-up cells makes it a heart-wrenching visit.

Similarly, the walk through the mass graves in the Killing Fields, where bones and shreds of victims’ clothes are clearly visible in cordoned-off mass graves, was emotional. Only after seeing these sites did I realise the extent of the brutality the Cambodian people had endured. I had never read about this genocide in great detail, but for Cambodian children it’s still a story told in living rooms, not classrooms.
Fast foward to the current generation, and the progress is evident. There is also a lot of help from compassionate foreigners. In Siem Reap, the Angkor Hospital for Children is worth a visit, whether to donate blood or learn how the Japanese photographer-turned-philanthropist Kenro Izu helped save the lives of thousands of Cambodian children. In Phnom Penh, the non-profit Veiyo Tonle Restaurant, which serves great food (and lemon ice tea), supports the local New Cambodian Children’s Life Asssociation orphanage and even employs some of the older orphans. I spent some time at the NCCLA with the eldest orphan, 18-year-old Nartyl, who is starting an architecture course at university next year.

The final stop before crossing into Vietnam was the beachside town of Sihanoukville. The huts on Occheutal Beach are great to stay in ($25; Dh92 per night for a double). Apparently this is the wealthiest area of Cambodia, but from the little I saw, it wasn’t rich in culture. It’s undeniably stunning and great place for a beachside weekend, a spot of snorkelling and a boat trip to your own private island, but I felt as though there were plenty of other places in the region better suited for this. Sihanoukville is becoming swamped with hedonistic tourists who want to turn it into something like Thailand’s more notorious beach towns, which it will probably become in five to 10 years.

For a country that has been through so much, so recently, with more than one million people violently exterminated, all I felt from the locals was compassion and drive. That is what impressed me the most and is the reason I will return.

Next week: Ismat Abidi visits Vietnam, the next stop in her journey around the world.

Malaria results 'encouraging'

via Khmer NZ news Media


Phnom Penh - A two-year effort to contain and eliminate a drug-resistant strain of falciparum malaria near the Cambodian-Thai border has shown signs of success, the government said on Friday.

Dr Duong Socheat, who heads the National Centre for Malaria Control, said an ongoing programme that to date has tested 2 448 villagers near the western town of Pailin revealed only two cases of the strain resistant to artemisinin combination therapy (ACT).

ACT, which uses artemisinin and other drugs to attack the parasite, is the world's most important malaria treatment. Experts are worried the resistant strain could spread from western Cambodia and cause a global malaria crisis.

"The result is very encouraging," said Duong Socheat of the six-week testing programme that took place in six of Cambodia's most malaria-prone villages. "We have got a very good result."

ACT resistance means patients take longer to recover from malaria. Scientists say at some point full resistance would emerge.

Concerted effort

Two years ago the government, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and several NGOs combined efforts to tackle the resistant falciparum strain that was discovered in 2007.

Dr Steven Bjorge, a WHO malaria specialist in Phnom Penh, said it looked like the methods used to combat the strain were working.

"It's phenomenally low - we feel it's very, very low," he said of the results. "It looks like we're having success. I am cautiously optimistic."

Bjorge said most falciparum malaria cases are found in eastern Cambodia rather than in the country's far west. However, none of the falciparum cases in the east have been shown to be resistant to ACT.

He said eastern Cambodia would be targeted later this year with money from the Global Fund, which targets HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, and which has allocated $102m to the country over the next five years.

The ongoing process to test villagers follows a concerted effort around Pailin against ACT-resistant malaria, that included providing mosquito nets, combating fake drugs and educating people. Nationwide 1 300 villages now have two health workers trained to test for malaria and provide free treatment.

Duong Socheat said he is hopeful the government target of zero malaria deaths by 2020 can be reached, provided funding and expertise remained available. Last year 270 people died from malaria in Cambodia.

The news comes a week after the senior US malaria control official told a conference in Hanoi there were indications that ACT-resistant malaria had emerged in Myanmar and Vietnam.


‘Freedom Fighter’ Leader Sentenced to Life

Judicial Reform Not Moving Fast Enough: Experts

Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer | Washington, D.C
Friday, 25 June 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Photo: Courtesy of Center for Justice and Reconciliation
Seng Theary, president of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation.

“It is only now that we have time to think about restoring the courts, which began in 1993 when Untac and the international community entered.”

The justice system is plagued by a history of bad luck and the lack of current political will for reform, despite efforts to rebuild it since the arrival of the UN in the early 1990s, legal development experts told “Hello VOA” Thursday.

The legacy of the Khmer Rouge, which destroyed the courts, and former control by Vietnam both hampered the development of the system, said Seng Theary, president of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation.

“It is only now that we have time to think about restoring the courts, which began in 1993 when Untac and the international community entered,” she said.

Meanwhile, politics has divided the three branches of government, corruption has entered the training process for court officials and the courts are inadequately trained and equipped, she said.

Only about $2 million per year is spent on 26 different courts, including the Appeals and Supreme courts, she said.

Am Sam Ath, a rights investigator for Licadho, who also joined “Hello VOA” Thursday, said the courts lack independence, despite constitutional guarantees that theoretically separate power between the branches of government—executive, legislative and judicial.

“We have seen that there is interference from the executive branch in some ways, which leads to the issue of independence as still being a problem,” he said.

Trainee judges should be selected on merit and not be involved in political parties, he said, and should be taught to avoid corruption.

Minister Fails To Explain Spending in Oil Revenue

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Friday, 25 June 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Photo: AP
Sok An (right) Council Minister of Cambodia.

“The payment by companies were put into the account of the Cambodian National Bank, which is administered by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority. There was no payments directed to an individual, such as a government official.”

Council Minister Sok An has replied to a National Assembly inquiry about oil and gas development, saying nearly two dozen companies had been given licenses and oil giant Total had paid $28 million for exploration rights.

But an opposition lawmaker said Friday the response was inadequate because it did not go on to explain where the millions were spent.

In a June 9 response to Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, Sok An said 23 companies, including Chevron and Total, had received exploration agreements for oil and gas.

“But some of them left Cambodia, because our oil and gas resources could not be developed for trade,” Sok An wrote.

Of $28 million paid by Total to the government, $20 million was paid as a signing bonus, $6 million went to a social fund and $2 million went to the “administration process,” Sok An wrote, though he did not elaborate.

“The payment by companies were put into the account of the Cambodian National Bank, which is administered by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority. There was no payments directed to an individual, such as a government official.”

Cambodia’s management of its natural resources revenue has come under increased scrutiny lately, with environmental and development groups warning it lacks the proper mechanisms to utilize an expected upsurge in revenue.

Australian mining giant BHP Billiton is under investigation at the US Securities and Exchange Commission for possible corruption in Cambodia, after it paid millions of dollars into what it claims was as similar social fund, for which there is no apparent accountability.

“I cannot accept this response,” Son Chhay said of Sok An’s letter Friday. “This response does not show transparency in managing payment from companies.”

The use of funds “has no transparency, no bank account and no procedures for keeping this fund,” he said. “This response means there are irregularities and no transparency.”

Organization for Street Children Celebrates 15 Years

Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer | Washington, D.C
Friday, 25 June 2010

via Khmer NZ News Media

Photo: Courtesy of Friends International and Mith Samlanh
A group of young children are learning how to draw in Friends International and Mith Samlanh Organization in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“Our Cambodian and foreign customers love to order the famous fish amok, curry saramann and beef stir-fried with red ants.”

Friends International, a development group that helps street children build life skills, celebrated its 15th anniversary Friday, with an exhibition of children’s art and a cocktail party at its newest restaurant.

The group has helped thousands of children “who face daily violence and experience a high level of drug use to reintegrate into their families, public school, vocational training and then employment,” Map Somaya, its program director, told VOA Khmer.

The art exhibition shows works from children created during the lifetime of the organization at Romdeng restaurant, which belongs to the organization and is used to help train children in restaurant work, from designing menus to preparing and serving food.

Friends, which also goes by the Khmer name Mith Samlanh, has a team of 250 staff that help around 19,000 children per year, including primary classes for 750 children and 11 vocational courses for about 850. It also provides temporary accommodation for many.

“Our Cambodian and foreign customers love to order the famous fish amok, curry saramann and beef stir-fried with red ants,” said Sophon, a student chef at Romdeng.

Artwork on display includes work like “Flowers in the Garden,” by a nine-year-old named Vatey, who said she likes nature and escaping outside when she feels angry. Seeing flowers and trees make her calmer, she said.

Afloat with the lover

via Khmer NZ News Media

June 26, 2010

Lifeline ... fishing in the Mekong. Photo: Reuters

On a cruise through Cambodia and Vietnam, Jewel Topsfield ponders a fictional affair and countries in recovery.

I'm not even hungry the day I eat a tarantula. The Cambodians were - starving, in fact, when they were forced to eat spiders, crickets and water beetles to survive the hellish years of the Khmer Rouge. These days, however, arachnid cuisine is part of the tourism experience at Skuon - or Spiderville as it has become known - a fly-speck market town between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh famous for giving arachnophobes the heebie-jeebies.

Little Khmer girls with liquid eyes and impish grins paw at us as we are disgorged from the bus, imploring us to buy bags of pineapple or deep-fried tarantula, known as a-ping. Terrifyingly, not all are dead; the girls pluck at docile spiders sitting on their chests and furtively put them on our arms, giggling maniacally. Our expressions are priceless as we nibble gingerly at the hairy, fist-sized arachnids, deep-fried with garlic flakes. Apparently, the flesh tastes like chook but I am too chicken to venture past the crispy legs.

It is impossible to travel in Cambodia and Vietnam without realising how much of the present is haunted by the past. The dark days of the Khmer Rouge revolution and the Vietnam War - unsurprisingly known in this part of the world as the American War - are still writ large.

Sixty-five per cent of the population in Cambodia is aged under 25 because so many people were killed during the civil war. The poverty is palpable in the countryside - most of the dusty stilted houses that hem National Highway No.6 have no walls or furnishing other than hammocks. There is no electricity in most homes but the enterprising younger generation has found a way to watch television: their sets are powered by car batteries, which are collected once a week and recharged.

We are travelling in Cambodia and Vietnam with Blue Sky Holidays, an Australian company that specialises in customised tours. After a night in Siem Reap, our bus takes us to the Tonle Sap River, where we board luxury cruise ship La Marguerite, which will take us all the way down the Mekong River to Ho Chi Minh City. The ship is named after the French novelist, Marguerite Duras, whose memoir, The Lover, describes the clandestine relationship between a French girl and a wealthy Chinese man in Vietnam in the 1930s. Wooden panelling and quaint tiles onboard reference the French colonial era in which The Lover is set and the elegant vessel in which Duras returned to Paris in 1932. Indeed, when we visit the former home of Duras's wealthy Chinese paramour, Huynh Thuy Le, in Sa Dec, Vietnam - now a museum - the intricately patterned tiles are identical to those on La Marguerite.

The ship's moodily lit cabins have delicate orchids, white linen, old-fashioned telephones and a balcony nook. I sit here between excursions, hypnotised by the gentle thrum of the engine and watch the parade of pastel apartment blocks, flowering frangipani trees, corrugated-iron shacks and waving children float past.

Each night, a different cocktail is served in the Saigon Lounge: potent concoctions of rum, pineapple juice, Malibu and grenadine, or peach juice and gin with names such as River Scents and Mekong Blossom. This is generally the cue for our cruise director - universally known as Mr Smiley - to burst into a Vietnamese folk song, which segues into a rousing rendition of Elvis Presley's Only Fools Rush In.

The four-course dinners are more French-inspired than Asian, with complicated sauces and classic desserts such as baked Alaska, described whimsically on the menu as ''Omelet surprise''. After dinner, sipping icy beers, we float under a velvety sky in the swimming pool, feeling mildly guilty that we're keeping the barman awake.

The days develop a rhythm; we watch the sun rise on deck, have a smorgasboard breakfast; depart for an optional shore excursion; return to La Marguerite for a buffet lunch, another excursion or activity and then more of those Mekong Blossoms before dinner. Life on board La Marguerite is rarefied but we are also exposed to the realities of life in two countries still coming to terms with their bloody history. While docked in Phnom Penh, we go to the Killing Fields, a former longan orchard, where 17,000 people were murdered between 1975 and 1978. Most were bludgeoned to death to save on bullets. It is not the sanitised sightseeing we are used to in the West. Some of the communal graves have been disinterred; others are left untouched. Fragments of clothing protrude from the dirt while human bones crunch under foot. Other than skulls piled into glass boxes that look like fish tanks and some cursory signposting, there is little explanation of the genocide that occurred 30 years ago.

We are fortunate to have La Marguerite's Cambodian tour guide, Pharoth Sok, who tells us of his family's life during the dystopian Khmer Rouge regime. Pharoth is 27, born during the baby boom after the civil war. He had two uncles who disappeared and his mother was forced to work in the fields from 4am to 7pm, her only food a watery rice porridge. ''One night while they were having dinner, two security guards touched the shoulder of my mother's friend and said: 'We would like to bring you for re-education because this afternoon we saw you steal a mango from the field,''' Pharoth says. ''The next day, she saw the body of her friend lying in the field.''

Pharoth believes the legacy of the horror has been what he calls a ''short-term mentality'', with many Cambodians unable to look to tomorrow. He says tourism is a lifeline for Cambodia and urges us to share his personal experience and encourage others to visit.

That night, we watch an after-dinner screening of The Killing Fields - an account of the Pol Pot regime from the perspective of three journalists - through fresh eyes.

The next day is a change of pace after the gruelling Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng genocide museum. One of the two scheduled activities is a surreal towel-folding demonstration. Mr Smiley, assisted by two shy crew members, pummels the ship's monogrammed bath and hand towels into an elephant, a monkey, a cat, a turtle and, the piece de resistance, two kissing swans forming a heart in the space between them.

''Be prepared yourself for today's excursion or you will be attracted right away!'' trumpets the program for our second day in Vietnam. We are sceptical - how interesting can a tour of a brick factory be? But Mr Smiley is right: the brick kiln near Sa Dec, an architectural triumph that resembles a giant orange beehive, is fascinating. Nothing is wasted. The clay and baskets of rice husks, which are used to fuel the furnace, come from neighbouring farms. Once the bricks are baked, the ash is returned to the farms for use as fertiliser. Workers at the brick factory earn between $US4 ($4.60) and $US5 a day.

A Mekong river cruise is a fascinating blend of indulgence and eye-opening experiences. The riverside market in Sa Dec, with its pungent smells and trussed skinned frogs - their pounding hearts clearly visible with the skin removed - is too visceral for one tourist. She covers her face with a handkerchief and careens through the market, nearly crashing into a pig's head collecting flies.

Some of the Americans on board La Marguerite seem to prefer their Asian experience unadulterated by heat and dust and insects, opting out of the twice-daily shore excursions. ''Was it hooooot? Did it smell? I woulda hated it,'' they drawl when we return from our expeditions.

But there lies the beauty of life on La Marguerite - the opt-out clause.

If the watermelon-carving demonstration or the visit to the floating fish farm doesn't appeal, there is always a massage, a beer, the pool and the mighty Mekong.

Jewel Topsfield travelled courtesy of Blue Sky Holidays.


Seven-night cruises on RV La Marguerite cost from $1695 a person, twin share, with departures from Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City. Packages from Australia cost from $4395 a person, twin share, including international flights, two nights' accommodation at Siem Reap and touring at Angkor Wat, a seven-night cruise and two nights' accommodation and touring in Ho Chi Minh City. The next departure is September 3. Phone Blue Sky Holidays on 1300 665 109,


Cambodia Reluctant To Host Sea Games In 2015

via Khmer NZ News Media

PHNOM PENH, June 25 (Bernama) -- Cambodia has yet to decide whether or not to host the Southeast Asian Games (SEA GAMES) in 2015, fearing the lack of human resources, Xinhua news agency reported, citing a top Cambodian sports official as saying Friday.

"Technically, it is quite tough for Cambodia to host it, especially from the NOCC capacity, but that depends on the government leaders who have clear and long vision on the matter," said Vath Chamroeun, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC).

He said a number of factors such as human resource, sports structure, sport management, environment, and financial resource needed to be reviewed before a country decided to lodge a bid for the regional sports event.

It was reported that Laos had to spend about US$100 million to host the multi-sport event in 2009, according to Chamroeun.

A founding member of the SEA Games that was launched in 1959, Cambodia has never hosted the event.

Chamroeun said during a meeting of the SEA Games Federation Council in Jakarta on May 28-29, the Cambodian delegation was advised to host the SEA Games in 2015.

No license ever granted for oil production in Cambodia, gov't says

via Khmer NZ News Media

June 25, 2010

The Cambodian government has said that it has so far not yet granted license to any company for oil production, except contracts or agreements for oil and gas exploration.

In a letter seen Friday, a response to Son Chhay, lawmaker from Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Sok An, deputy prime minister and chairman of Cambodia's National Petroleum Authority said Cambodia has never granted license to any oil company for production, but only agreements for exploration status.

He said 24 companies have had agreements with Cambodia for oil and gas exploration, but some of them have left the country after they had worked out that oil and gas resources in the country are not sufficient for production, said the letter dated June 9, 2010.

Last month, Cambodia hosted an international mining conference to seek lessons learned, and the right practices and policies as well as responsibility to develop the mining industry in the country.

Addressing at the opening of the conference, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said his government was pleased to absorb lessons learned and shared, the good practices and management on the mining sector from other countries that will help Cambodia to effectively manage it, especially, on oil and gas exploitation.

He said, his government was committed to encouraging investors to invest in oil and gas in line with proper management to protect the environmental impact as well as proper management on revenue to be collected from the sector to ensure "transparency, accountability so as to serve the social and economic growth and to reduce the poverty of the people."

The premier said Cambodia's mining sector was not invested or explored by foreign investors until his country gained full peace in 1998.

He said, based on research, Cambodia has had more natural resources rather than just oil and gas, including bauxite, gold, copper, zinc, iron ores, among others.

Cambodia is expected to earn revenue from oil and gas by 2012.

Until now, a number of foreign companies including those from China, the United States, South Korea, and Japan, are interested in the oil and gas exploration in Cambodia.

Source: Xinhua

1.25-dollar debt leads to machete killing in Cambodia

via Khmer NZ News Media

Fri, 25 Jun 2010
By : dpa

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian farmer stands accused of killing his neighbour with a machete after an argument over a 1.25-dollar debt for a farming implement, national media reported Friday.

Yung Yat was charged with murder for killing Chhum Saroeurn, 47, in the central province of Kampong Chhnang after he went to his neighbour seeking payment for a hoe he had made, said Choem Bunthoeun, the provincial police chief.

Angered at the request for cash, Chhum Saroeurn picked up the hoe he had bought but not paid for and beat Yung Yat, 45, with it, Choem Bunthoeun said.

Yung Yat retaliated with a machete, killing his neighbour with a blow to the neck, the police chief said.

"Due to his temper, the suspect decided to kill the victim and confessed to the crime without regret," the official told the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

Yung Yat is in pre-trial detention.

Cambodia’s King-Father, Queen-Mother, and King Norodom Sihamoni to Return to Cambodia

via Khmer NZ News Media

CAMBODIA, PHNOM PENH, JUNE 25, 2010 - Cambodia’s King-father Norodom Sihanouk, Queen-mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk,and King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday of June 25, 2010 will return to the Kingdom of Cambodia after they paid a 4-day private visit to Vietnam.

On their return from Vietnam, It is generally noticed that Cambodia’s King-father Norodom Sihanouk, Queen-mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, and King Norodom Sihamoni will be accompanied by the Royal Government of Cambodia’s high-ranking officials, including Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany Hun Sen, the Royal Palace’s officials, the Royal Government’s officials and many other foreign diplomats.

On their 4-day private visit to Vietnam, Cambodia’s King-father Norodom Sihanouk, Queen-mother Monineath Sihanouk, and King Norodom Sihamoni would be warmly welcomed by Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet and General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party Nong Duc Manh.

Edited by Mr. Rasmey (Mr. Go for It)

PM cuts ribbon on overpass

Photo by: Pha Lina
Motorists drive past the newly-opened overpass close to Monivong Bridge on Thursday, after it was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The premier said the overpass would ease congestion on Monivong Boulevard.

via Khmer NZ News Media

Friday, 25 June 2010 15:02 Cheang Sokha

Hun Sen also calls for citizens to follow traffic laws and wear helmets on bikes

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Thursday inaugurated Phnom Penh’s first overpass, which he said would help to ease traffic jams along Preah Monivong Boulevard and serve as a model for future overpasses in the capital.

After cutting a ribbon to officially open the US$6 million “sky bridge”, the premier declared that traffic along Monivong “will not be jammed or crowded any longer”.

“Today we inaugurate the first overpass in the history of Cambodia. The first overpass is now born,” he said to the applause of several hundred observers.

“Now that we have the first, there should be a second, third, fourth and so on.”

Hun Sen then announced that the municipality is conducting a feasibility study for a second overpass – this one to be built on Russian Federation Boulevard near Preah Kossamak Hospital – that he said would help to facilitate the daily commute of around 170,000 vehicles and 800,000 motorbikes.

Traffic safety appeal
The prime minister also used the occasion to highlight the importance of road safety, appealing to motorbike drivers to wear helmets and asking all drivers to obey traffic laws.

“To avoid traffic accidents, drivers should respect the law, and as required, they should wear helmets,” he said. “I would like to appeal to all drivers to respect and love your lives.”

Photo by: Pha Lina
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema (third from right), Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, look out over Norodom Boulevard from the newly opened overpass on Thursday.

Sem Panhavuth, Road Crash and Victim Information System project manager at Handicap International Belgium, said the premier was wise to draw attention to the benefits of wearing a helmet.

“According to our data ... the number of motorbike fatalities from head injuries decreased from 86 percent in 2008 to 76 percent in 2009 because more people are wearing helmets,” he said.

In 2008, there were 297 road fatalities in Phnom Penh and 1,638 throughout Cambodia, while last year saw 243 road fatalities in the capital and 1,717 throughout the Kingdom, he said.

Phnom Penh traffic police chief Heng Chantheary said he estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the public obeyed traffic laws, and that most violators were young people.

“In general, we have seen that the number of traffic accidents has decreased because more people are respecting the laws these days,” he said.

“Accidents usually occur when people are driving drunk or driving over the speed limit.”

Govt defends handling of oil

via Khmer NZ News Media

Friday, 25 June 2010 15:02 Sebastian Strango and Meas Sokchea

THE government has defended its handling of extractive resource exploration agreements, in response to opposition queries about payments made by foreign firms for the right to explore Cambodian oil and mineral deposits.

On May 7, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay wrote to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An requesting information about which companies have been awarded the right to prospect for oil and gas and how funds from those companies have been administered.

He also requested information about a US$28 million payment by French oil giant Total to secure offshore oil exploration rights, as well as the nature of a “social development fund” set up to distribute a portion of that firm’s payment.

In a letter dated June 9, a copy of which was seen Thursday, Sok An confirmed that a total of 23 companies have been awarded rights to explore for oil in Cambodia, although not all of them are still operating.

He also confirmed the $28 million Total payment, stating that it included a $20 million signature bonus, $6 million to be paid into a social-development fund, and another $2 million for administrative purposes.

The letter denies any misuse of the funds, and says that all signature bonuses are made into a National Bank of Cambodia account jointly managed by the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“Like other national budgets, the money has a single exit and a single entry point with only one commander in chief and one chief of staff,” said Sok An, who is also the president of the CNPA.

“No payment has been paid directly to any government official,” his letter added. “All payments must be made according to oil agreements ... [and] put into an account which is defined by the government.”

The social development fund is jointly managed in the same way, but “consultation” with a particular company is required before its funds can be disbursed, Sok An stated.

The recent concerns about extractive resource revenues arose in April, when mining giant BHP Billiton announced it was under investigation by the US securities and exchange commission for possible violations of anticorruption laws.

Some linked the probe to Cambodia because of comments by Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor, who told the National Assembly in 2007 that BHP had secured rights to a concession in Mondulkiri province by paying $2.5 million in “tea money”.

In a speech later that month, Prime Minister Hun Sen mentioned the Total payment, prompting government critics and opposition members to call for further disclosure.

In a statement issued in May, London-based graft watchdog Global Witness said foreign donors should confront the government about whether such payments have been registered in national accounts.

“No information about the whereabouts of these payments has been made public by the authorities,” Global Witness said.

On Thursday, Son Chhay welcomed Sok An’s letter, saying it provided new information on a number of issues.

But he said some of his questions remained unanswered. He noted that the letter does not address his request that the government disclose information about revenues and expenses from the social development fund, as well as the legal framework that dictates its use.

“Where is the money that is collected from all these companies? How can the government create a fund without regulation or a law to regulate the fund?” he said. “It’s these sorts of things that have been criticised by the public. There are still more questions that need to be answered.”

He also disputed Sok An’s claim that no government officials have received direct payments, saying he has evidence of a senior government official receiving a personal payment in relation to an oil and gas deal.

The identity of the official will be revealed after more evidence is collected, he said, and vowed to “push for more details” about the government’s handling of oil and gas exploration payments.

Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, said Sok An’s responses to Son Chhay were thorough and dismissed Son Chhay’s concerns.

“All answers are not to Son Chhay’s liking, since he has the opposite ideas. If Son Chhay accepts them or not it is up to him,” he said.

Mam Sambath, chairman and executive director of the NGO Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, told the Post in May that the premier’s announcement of the Total payment in April was a positive sign for future transparency, but that further disclosure is necessary.

“They should improve how to disclose information by having more detailed information,” he said.