Sunday, 6 April 2008

Cambodia a 'victim' of region's drug traffickers

TRACEY SHELTON Lour Ramin: “Because of stricter law enforcement in other countries, criminals have turned Cambodia into a drug lab.”

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 04 April 2008
Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at
http://www.phnompenhpost.com

Lour Ramin is one of many loyalists to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) who long ago determined to devote himself and his career to the party. Since 1979 he has been involved in government security affairs. During the State of Cambodia (SoC), he was responsible for national security. After the national elections in 1993, he was promoted to a position at the Department of Foreign Immigration to communicate with the outside world and to head up Cambodia’s role in the fight against terrorism. His career has enabled him to send all three of his children to be educated in Australia; one is a permanent resident there. Now Secretary General of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), Lour Ramin spoke to Post reporter Vong Sokheng about the fight against drugs, including the high profile raid a year ago that busted a major amphetamine lab in Kampong Speu. Following that raid, CPP advisor Oum Chhay was arrested. He committed suicide last August.

Why did you decide to take this job?
I am with the national police and I have to respect orders and assignments. That is my duty. Whatever bad situation or danger there is, I have to fulfill my obligation.

How do you respond to questions about CPP officials being involved in the drug business?We have never denied this issue. It is an issue of personality; it is not a connection to the government institution. We must punish those who made a mistake, such as the case of Oum Chhay, even if he holds the title of Okhna. [Editors note: Chhay was an advisor to the National Assembly and to CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin. He jumped to his death from the first floor of Phnom Penh anti-drug police offices on August 21, 2007, six days after he was arrested at the Cambodian-Thai border town of Poipet. He was suspected of being involved in the transportation of four tons of chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine.]

How do you combat drug trafficking?
The National Authority for Combating Drugs is the most important body in the government’s policy to fight against drug trafficking. We have four approaches. First is to reduce the sources of drug supplies, especially drug plantations. With this we have been very successful. Marijuana plantations used to be big problem for Cambodia but now they are no longer an issue.

The second is to reduce the user base. We focus on education as a priority. We actively alert people to the danger of drugs and we have been able to reduce the consumer base and the smuggling of drugs into the country.

The third is to strengthen law enforcement. We have been struggling with this; with an amendment to the law and by strengthening human resources for law enforcement, we are seeing results. For example, in 2007 we cracked down on a large-scale drug lab, something which had never before been seen in Cambodia. We arrested the suppliers.

The fourth approach is cooperation with the international community. Drug trafficking is an international issue. We have paid a lot of attention and worked with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a very important partner. We have an MoU with our neighboring countries – Burma, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and China – under the coordination of the UNODC. We have participated in international forums in Asia and Asia-Pacific.

What is your assessment of the drug problem?
Cambodia has been the victim of drug traffickers. Previously, criminals used Cambodia only as a transit area, but because of stricter law enforcement in other countries, criminals have turned Cambodia into a drug lab. We cracked down on them in time. They continue to use Cambodia as a transit area where drug smuggling flows from the Golden Triangle to get to international markets. Drug users are still increasing. Even as we strengthen our abilities, we see that if the source of the drugs is not stopped, Cambodia will remain victimized by drugs. We have reduced drug trafficking but we still cannot keep it under control. We are determined, along with ASEAN countries plus China, under the coordination of the UNOCD, to free Cambodia of drugs by 2015. But the target is very difficult.

Are there other drug labs under investigation?
Besides the large-scale drug lab which we cracked down on in Kampong Speu, we have had some information about attempts to set up drugs labs in other areas. But so far we haven’t found any.

What kind of drugs do you find in Cambodia?
We find that production of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) is popular because of the consumers. This kind of ATS production is increasing in the region and in Cambodia. We’ve found heroin being smuggled from the Golden Triangle through Cambodia to the international market. Cocaine comes from Europe and transits Cambodia on its way to neighboring markets.

How many people are addicted to drugs?
In 2007 we found 11,000 Cambodian people were addicted to drugs, but the figure was not an accurate one. According to the experts, the figure should be five or ten times as much. The users were between 15 and 40 years old. The number of users that inject was also increasing, especially in Phnom Penh and other provincial towns where there was tourist and economic growth.

Does the drug situation create security issues that could impact local people?
Among the consumers, we found that they were involved in violent crimes, such as robbery and murder, and traffic accidents. These are cases that concern us. HE Sar Kheng, the Minister of Interior and head of the NACD, has paid attention to this issue and has encouraged police officials to take action in order to reduce crimes related to drug use.

What are your biggest concerns?
The flow of ATS because we don’t have enough experience or ability to control these chemical substances. The other difficult issue is there is no medicine for the treatment of users. We are looking forward to getting them access to medical care and to integrate them into the peaceful society.Within the provincial health centers, we have established about 11 small rehabilitation health centers and they at least can provide services to 100 drug addicts.

Appril 6, 2008: SRP Anti-inflation Demonstration in front of the National Assembly

Several participating in the demonstration holding signs reading: "We want pay raise in line with inflation", "Government must stop inflation"



Heavy presence of anti-riot police force blocking streets

Mrs. Mu Sochua, SRP Deputy Secretary-general addressing the demonstrators

SRP MP Nuth Rumduol addressing the demonstrators

SRP MP Mao Munyvann addressing the demonstrators

Sam Rainsy talking to Buddhist Monks participating in the demonstration

MP Sam Rainsy talking to reporters


Heavy presence of anti-riot police force blocking streets

The demonstrators gathering in front of the National Assembly




Several participating in the demonstration holding signs reading: "We want pay raise in line with inflation", "Government must stop inflation"

Courtesy of Sam Rainsy Party : http://www.samrainsyparty.org/index.html

Sacravatoons : "Only Hun Xen.........."

Courtesy of Sacravatoon : http://sacrava.blogspot.com/

Sacravatoons : "The Royal Karaoke Group from China"

Courtesy of Sacravatoon : http://sacrava.blogspot.com/

Cambodian former king returns home from China

chinaview.cn
2008-04-06

PHNOM PENH, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian retired King Norodom Sihanouk and his wife Monineath Sihanouk arrived in Siem Reap province of Cambodia from China on Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Hun Sen said.

Sihanouk and his wife will stay at their royal residence in Siem Reap provincial town, Hun Sen was quoted by the National Television of Kampuchea (TVK) as saying earlier on Sunday.

The former king always returns to his homeland to celebrate the Khmer New Year on April 13-16 with Cambodian people.

Sihanouk and his wife, accompanied by their son King Norodom Sihamoni, left for China last November for routine medical checkup and rest.

The 85-year-old former king suffers from diabetes and has had colon cancer. He abdicated his throne to his son in October 2004.

Editor: Du Guodong

Cambodian king to attend opening ceremony of 2008 Olympics

chinaview.cn
2008-04-05

PHNOM PENH, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni will attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, said Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday at a road construction ceremony in Preah Vihear province.

The King will attend the opening ceremony at the invitation of the Chinese side, National Television TVK quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, Chea Sokhom, head of protocol affairs for the National Committee for Organizing National and International Ceremonies, told reporters that the exact departure date for the king to Beijing has not been decided yet.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Cambodia and China, he said, adding that former king Norodom Sihanouk has prepared the way for the young generations in the relations with China 50 years ago, Hun Sen said.

He himself will also go to China for at least two times this year to attend the Asia-Europe Summit and the ASEAN-China Exhibition, he said.

Editor: Du Guodong

In face of death, smile of life

By Jason George
April 6, 2008

By Jason George When Dith Pran, photojournalist for The New York Times, died last weekend, newspapers around the world recounted his harrowing tale of four years in the forced labor camps of his native Cambodia.

They wrote of his trials—Pran lost much of his family to the Khmer Rouge regime—and his triumph: He escaped in 1979, made his way to the United States and rejoined The Times, where he had worked before his capture.Yet none of the obituaries mentioned a fact well-known among Pran's friends and family: Dith Pran loved to forward the cheesiest of e-mails.

Such messages are the online trading cards of grandparents and Net neophytes, full of colorful fonts, excessive exclamation marks and pictures of cuddly kittens. They were also Pran's pastime, and until he became too ill this winter with pancreatic cancer, not a week went by that he did not send one along to those in his address book.

For the longest time I did not understand how a man who had experienced so much death could revel so often at the sight of dancing puppies.

Dith Pran—Dith is his surname—and I first met in 2003, when I began a regular freelance assignment with The Times. I wrote mostly from New Jersey, where Pran also was based, and he photographed many of the stories I worked on during my two years there.

To say that I was intimidated on our first assignment together would be a gross understatement. I had repeatedly watched "The Killing Fields," the cinematic retelling of Pran's brave decision to remain and report in Cambodia as chaos overtook his beloved country.

Here was an icon, not just of journalism, but also of history—a man who had turned holocaust into humanitarianism, retelling his story to U.S. civic groups and schoolchildren in hopes that the horrors of the past would not be forgotten or repeated.

And yet here he was, riding shotgun in my battered Volvo sedan.

The Dith Pran of "The Killing Fields" was one of Buddha-like grace—an accurate portrait of the real man. But the everyday Pran also was a man of whimsical wit. It shone time and time again in those e-mails and elsewhere.

I remember he once forwarded a cartoon of the Geico gecko getting run over by a car. To me, it recalled a shocking scene in "The Killing Fields" when the actor portraying Pran ate a lizard raw, just as Pran actually did, to stave off starvation. To Pran, the e-mail was just funny.

A frequent electronic exchange with him often began: "How are you? Send joke."S

uch lust for the small smiles in life carried over into his work. Pran's favorite assignment was to photograph "day shots"—pictures without stories attached—at beaches along the Jersey Shore. He would spend hours enjoying the sun, the surf and, yes, a glimpse of the occasional bikini.

The sight of humanity at its happiest—people enjoying both nature and leisure—may not have given Pran much of a break from his memories. But I suspect it confirmed for Pran that the world was better than its darkest chapters, better than the madness of killing 2 million of his countrymen.

For a man who once wrote, "The ghosts of the innocent will be on my mind forever," the Jersey Shore gave Pran hope that future innocents could remain just that.

In all my hours at Pran's side, I never once learned a wartime anecdote he had not told publicly before. On those rare occasions when we did discuss his homeland—I had visited his Cambodian village in 2000—he was clear-eyed about the past.

He preferred to remember his village as it was both before and during the nightmare of the late 1970s. I believe it was his way of acknowledging the yin and yang, the good and evil, that exist all around. Yet Pran also believed that the good could win out, and this kept him sharing his story, time after time, in school assembly halls, cafeterias and branch libraries.

Whenever some local newspaper would report on one of those talks, Pran always made sure to send the Web link of the article to his friends. Although I wondered at first why he would care about small-town attention after achieving worldwide celebrity, I soon realized that he wasn't forwarding them because of pride in himself, but pride that the story had again been told. It was a great life lesson, and also one about the need for humility in journalism.

It was a reminder that the subject trumps the teller—that the message means everything, the messenger nothing.

Jason George is a Tribune reporter.

War reporter Jon Swain pays tribute to Dith Pran

Jon Swain was about to be shot by the Khmer Rouge when Dith Pran intervened. The Sunday Times war reporter pays tribute to the courage of his friend, who died last week

New York Times photographer Dith Pran in a portrait taken in the 1980s


From The Sunday Times
April 6, 2008

Four years after his enslavement by the Khmer Rouge, an intrepid Cambodian stumbled out of the thickly wooded jungle to freedom. His legs were wobbly. He was weak with malaria. His front teeth were broken. His face was gaunt. He was incredibly thin – but he still retained his lopsided grin.

That grin was still in place – although fading – in the weeks before Dith Pran died last Sunday in a hospital in America, his adopted home, from pancreatic cancer. He was 65. Although wan and thin, he moved on gracefully, loved and mourned by all whose lives he had touched. “This is my path and I must go where it takes me,” he said shortly before the end.

Pran’s harrowing personal tale of enslavement and escape from the Khmer Rouge in 1979 had eventually become the subject of the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields, directed by Roland Joffé, which focused global attention on one of history’s worst genocides.

Pran was justly famous. Were it not for this former tourist guide to the fabled Angkor temples, who later became interpreter and assistant to Sydney Schanberg, a reporter for The New York Times, in Cambodia, the world’s eyes would probably not have been opened to the monstrous atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in his native land. In its rush to forge a new society, 2m people died in executions or from starvation, disease and overwork – nearly a third of the population.

However, Pran did more. After his escape he moved to America, where he worked as a photographer for The New York Times and spent the rest of his life speaking out about what his countrymen had been through. He also pushed for war crimes trials for the Khmer Rouge leaders – trials that are finally due to begin this year in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.
Pran, alas, will never see them.

“I am a one-person crusade,” he once said. “I must speak for those who did not survive and those who still suffer.”

I owe this honourable Cambodian a debt of gratitude that I can never erase. He saved my life when I was captured by the Khmer Rouge.

At the time the Cambodian war was a sideshow to the war raging next door in Vietnam and some aspects of it seemed comic. Before sallying forth every morning into the countryside to witness the fighting, we reporters would meet at the Groaning Table – an open-air cafe – for a military briefing from a charming colonel called Am Rong, whose unfortunate name was a butt of endless jokes. His military communiqués, I remember, were invariably nonsense.

The seductive wartime capital, with its brothels and opium parlours, encouraged all kinds of indiscretions and we conducted our lives as though we were characters in a Graham Greene novel; or we liked to imagine that we did.

However, the war was deadly serious. So we also took insane risks and witnessed and reported on some of the most appalling human suffering that I have seen.

In the process more than 20 of the tiny foreign press corps of about 60 were killed in a matter of months by the Khmer Rouge, who never took prisoners. And many more Cambodian journalists also died.

We loved the Cambodians, who had a disarming insouciance in the face of danger. The difference between us and the band of local journalists we hired to interpret the language, politics and culture was that they were seeing and reporting on their own country being destroyed. We, on the other hand, were reporting from the privileged position of visitors who could always bail out.

For them, there could be nowhere else to go: they and their loved ones were trapped by the war and their survival was dependent on the outcome.

It was Pran who was the unacknowledged dean of this Cambodian press corps, not because of the status that his job with the venerable New York Times gave him, but because he was so unusually acute and resourceful and had unassailable integrity.

The horrors of the war had made morality a luxury that many of his fellow countrymen had long since discarded. Yet, unlike so many of the politicians and generals for whom survival and money were the ultimate objectives, Pran remained faithful to his principles. He believed passionately that the story of the destruction of his beautiful homeland needed to be told. And to that end he risked his life time after time.

I first met Pran in 1972. Although his loyalty was always to Schanberg, he was ready to give help and advice to me and all the other journalists. Never more so than on April 17, 1975 – the day of the fall of Phnom Penh.

On that same day Schanberg, Al Rockoff, an American photographer, and I were captured by the Khmer Rouge.

A squad of teenage soldiers with hate-filled eyes forced us into a captured armoured personnel carrier (APC). Pran, realising we were going to be executed, selflessly argued to be allowed to join us inside, knowing full well that without his communication skills we were doomed.

It is this story that is told in The Killing Fields. And it was Dith Pran himself, by the way, who coined the phrase “killing fields” after seeing the grim piles of corpses and skeletal remains on his desperate trek to freedom.

That was in the future. Back when Pran volunteered himself as a prisoner, there seemed little hope of escape for any of us. First we were taken to the banks of the Mekong river; then the rear door of the APC opened and a pair of Khmer Rouge soldiers, pointing rifles, beckoned us out. We knew they were going to shoot us.

Pran got out first and began to talk softly and firmly, as he always did. He told the Khmer Rouge that we were neutral journalists who had come to report on their historic “liberation”; and, after a while, our would-be killers began to calm down. The tension suddenly evaporated and we were freed.

A few days later we tried to doctor one of my two British passports for Pran so that he could be evacuated with us to Thailand as a foreigner – but we failed.

The Khmer Rouge forced him to go into the countryside – by now becoming a giant labour camp – where he somehow survived torture, starvation and a life of unremitting hard toil.

When he emerged four years later, 50 members of his family had perished. Mercifully, Schanberg had evacuated Pran’s wife, Ser Moeun, and his four beloved children before Phnom Penh fell and they were safely in America.

The first I knew of his freedom was when I received a telegram from Schanberg, who had been tortured by guilt about Pran’s disappearance and had led his own one-man crusade to trace his helper and friend.

The telegram included a personal message from Pran, patterned on a Cambodian proverb: “Hi Jon. The world is round. Now I meet you again. Pran was in bad shape, but the life is remained. Love Pran.”

I still have it. In subsequent years I saw him several times back in Cambodia.

It is a place that takes over the soul, and those who have known it at its worst are irresistibly drawn back. We revisited old spots – including, once, the place on the riverbank where, blinking in the sunlight, we had stood facing the rifles of the Khmer Rouge peasant boys, waiting for the volley of shots that would kill us.

The slight man I had known had put on weight; he had adopted American food and habits and had a New Jersey twang. Beneath all that he was still the same Pran: warm and attentive, with that peculiarly Cambodian joie de vivre and a mischievous sense of humour.

His business card announced simply: “Dith Pran – photographer”. On the other side, however, it listed information about how the Khmer Rouge had ruined his beloved homeland.

Using his survival as a tool against injustice and genocide, he became a good-will ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, founded a holocaust awareness project and compiled a book of children’s accounts of growing up under the Khmer Rouge.

It is given to few journalists to make a real difference to people’s lives. Once safe in America, Pran could have retreated into the background. Countless Cambodians did. But he saw it as his duty to stop the memory of what had happened to his country fading away. That and his courage and loyalty are what made Pran magnificent.

Latterly, friends said, he had become disappointed with the way Cambodia was becoming rotten again with corruption and cruelty. His marriage to Ser Moeun had broken up and another marriage had failed.

Despite personal setbacks, he bore his public role gracefully. Right to the end he always thought there was more that he could do, according to Schanberg, who spent many days attending to his dying friend.

“Pran was a true reporter – a fighter for the truth and for his people,” Schanberg said. “When the cancer struck, he fought for his life again. And he did it with the same Buddhist calm and courage and positive spirit that made [him] so special.”

Having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer too late for much hope of survival, Pran urged others to undergo early testing. “I want to save lives, including my own,” he said.

He had triumphed over the Khmer Rouge and outlived their leader, Pol Pot, who had turned Cambodia into a madhouse. But Pran knew deep down that the battle against cancer was one he could not win.

“Cambodians believe we just rent this body,” he said not long before he died. “It is just a house for the spirit; and if the house is full of termites, it is time to leave.”

Hundreds of Cambodians protest against inflation

Opposition party leader Sam Riansy speaks during a protest outside National assembly building in Phnom Penh April 6, 2008. About 500 people took part in a protest to demand a reduction in the prices of gasoline, rice and other items in Cambodia.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)


A Cambodian man holds a national flag during a protest against inflation along a street in front of the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh on April 6. Some 300 people rallied outside Cambodia's parliament to protest against double-digit inflation and to demand for wage increases ahead of national elections in July.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

People take part in a protest outside the National assembly building in Phnom Penh April 6, 2008. About 500 people took part in a protest to demand a reduction in the prices of gasoline, rice and other items in Cambodia.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian anti-riot police block a street during a protest against inflation in Phnom Penh on April 6. Some 300 people rallied outside Cambodia's parliament to protest against double-digit inflation and to demand wage increases ahead of national elections in July.(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — About 300 people rallied Sunday outside Cambodia's parliament to protest against double-digit inflation and to demand wage increases to deal with soaring food costs.

The protesters, led by Cambodia's main opposition Sam Rainsy Party, carried banners reading: "We want pay raises. Government must stop inflation."

"The current government is unable to curb inflation... We are pushing them to reduce the prices of essential items or to increase salaries in line with inflation," opposition leader Sam Rainsy told reporters.

The demonstrators later walked to the nearby site of a 1997 grenade attack, where 16 people were killed and more than 100 were wounded during an anti-government protest.

About 100 anti-riot police carrying electric prods and tear gas blocked the surrounding streets to prevent the protesters from entering neighbourhood markets.

Cambodia's inflation cracked into double digits late last year, hovering around 11 percent, driving up the cost of food and other staple goods.

The price of meat and other essential items has risen by as much as 40 percent over the past year.

Rice -- Cambodia's staple food -- now costs nearly one dollar per kilogramme (2.2 pounds), deepening the poverty of the one-third of the country's 14 million people who live on less than 50 cents a day.

"The prices of commodities have increased so much -- especially oil, rice and meat -- that I can't afford to live," said 20-year-old Huor Ly Ly, a garment worker whose salary is under 60 dollars a month.

The Cambodian government earlier pushed out a series of measures meant to halt price hikes, banning rice exports and lifting a ban on imported pork. Prices of basic foods, however, have remained stubbornly high.

Aid agencies have warned that the growing food crisis could threaten tens of thousands of rural Cambodians with hunger in the coming year, as even food handouts have become significantly more expensive and harder to distribute.

Cambodia's KRouge genocide inspires first of its kind art exhibit

Cambodian artist Svay Ken, 76, gives the final touches to his painting at his residence in Phnom Penh, on March 10. Forced Through paint, sculpture, charcoal or pencil, Cambodian artists have converged to create works inspired by the rule of the Khmer Rouge in an unprecendented show that organisers hope will evolve into an artistic archive of the suffering inflicted by Cambodia's genocide.(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)


Cambodian artist Svay Ken, 76, gives the final touches to his painting at his residence in Phnom Penh, on March 10. Forced Through paint, sculpture, charcoal or pencil, Cambodian artists have converged to create works inspired by the rule of the Khmer Rouge in an unprecendented show that organisers hope will evolve into an artistic archive of the suffering inflicted by Cambodia's genocide.(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Cambodian artist Svay Ken


PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Forced from his home by the Khmer Rouge, Svay Ken remembers joining tens of thousands of other Cambodians choking the roads leading away from the capital Phnom Penh more than 30 years ago.

Carrying what few household goods he could grab in the frantic hours after the communist guerrillas' seizure of the city, he clutched his children's hands, terrified they would be swallowed by the crush of bodies.

Although not yet the painter he would become, Svay Ken -- now a frail but driven 76-year-old who has emerged as one of Cambodia's pre-eminent contemporary artists -- remembers desperately trying to commit each moment of his ordeal to memory.

"I thought that if I survived this, I would record these experiences in paint to preserve the memory of what I experienced," he recalls, sitting in the living room of his Phnom Penh apartment.

One of those memories, rendered in a primitive style, shows grim, black-clad patients lining up to be fed out of a communal bucket.

Entitled "Khmer Rouge hospital," it is among two dozen works displayed at Phnom Penh art gallery Meta House in the first exhibit of its kind, called "Art of Survival".

Through paint, sculpture, charcoal or pencil, Cambodian artists have converged to create works inspired by the 1975-1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge, during which as many as two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed by the regime.

But organisers say it reaches beyond Cambodia's genocide to illuminate some more universal truths about humanity and its capacity to both hurt and heal, and they hope to take the exhibit on the international circuit.

"Examining the complexity and horror of the Pol Pot regime is not only important and relevant for the Cambodian people -- it is of great concern for the rest of the world as well," says American artist Bradford Edwards.

"The weathered cliche 'It can happen anywhere' must be applied here, for no nation is immune to the possibility of genocide," he adds.

For Edwards, who has set out to expand the show in order to introduce a global audience to Cambodian artists, "Art of Survival" serves dual purposes: to create art out of one of Cambodia's most destructive periods and to open a window onto the country's nascent art scene.

"I'm trying to make this exhibition appeal to the widest variety of people," he said.

"Art of Survival" spans the range of emotions and experiences that are tied to the defining moment in modern Cambodia's history.

Fear and violence are evident in the more literal works of older artists who survived the regime -- bleached skulls crowding canvases, or a bound and blindfolded figure bending under the foot of a Khmer Rouge cadre.

Younger artists born in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge's rule produced more abstract interpretations of the genocide, like Vandy Rattana's "Going Fanatic," a photograph of squares of light crowded between the communist movement's hammer and sickle and two blocks representing the United States.

"It's a political chessboard," says the 28 year-old.

"Cambodia's war was not just created by Cambodia -- it belonged to the world. If we talk about war in Cambodia we need to talk about Vietnam, the United States," he adds.

The exhibition, he says, "gives me a voice to say something about my history".

Edwards says this dialogue through art is long overdue, and calls the exhibit "an accumulation of years" of collective trauma and recovery.

"We've been waiting for an art show that deals with the Khmer Rouge period specifically. I would call this a 29-year process," he says.

"It is much more than an art exhibit because of the context in which it is taking place," he adds.
The "Art of Survival" coincides with efforts to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice after nearly three decades.

Cambodia's genocide tribunal expects later this year to prosecute the first of five senior cadres currently in its custody in what many see as the biggest step yet towards the country's reconciliation with its brutal past.

The UN-backed court gives weight to the art. The art, in turn, is a tangible sign of Cambodia's emergence from beneath the shadow of the Khmer Rouge, says Meta House's director Nico Mesterharm.

"Art is a marker of development," says Mesterharm, a German documentary maker who has positioned his gallery at the forefront of Cambodia's cultural recovery.

"We see 'Art of Survival' as a platform for a community dialogue. We hope that our project contributes to the reconciliation process," he says.

Big lineup expected for Cambodian parade today

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
04/05/2008
presstelegram.com

LONG BEACH - The final nails are being pounded into floats and the last VIPs are being added to the lineup as the fourth annual Cambodian New Year Parade prepares to set off from the corner of Junipero Avenue and Anaheim Street today.

Parade organizer Richer San predicts the annual celebration, which annually brings thousands of visitors to the Cambodian Town area, will be the largest to date.

As of Friday, the parade had 87 official entrants, the most yet, with a few more stragglers expected.

San said three of six floats were still under construction and nearing completion near Sophy's Restaurant on Anaheim Street.

"I think we all feel great," San said.

This year, there are five grand marshals for the parade. They are 1st District City Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews and local Cambodians Charles Song, Sweety Chap and Michael Sar.

A new wrinkle this year is participation in the parade by representatives of Cambodia's ministries of tourism and culture and fine arts, plus the Council of Ministries.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An had been invited, but in in the wake of a torrent of community dissent, his name was withdrawn.

San says that from 2 to 5 p.m. tourism officials will offer workshops at the Mark Twain branch library on tourism business opportunities in Cambodia.

The library will also be open to display some of the more than 1,000 books and items purchased by library officials on a recent trip to Cambodia.

The parade will begin at 9:30 a.m. with an interfaith celebration. The parade route runs along Anaheim Street between Junipero and Warren avenues. After the parade, a celebration with entertainment will be held at MacArthur Park, 1321 E. Anaheim St.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291

ICT and Telecommunication World Expo 2008




That is the 4th ICT and Telecommunication World Expo 2008 has been held by National Information Communications Technology Development Authority-NiDA and International Data Group-IDG at Mondial Center in Phnom Penh from 4-6 April. There are more than 30 international and domestic companies showcasing the latest ICT such as cell phone, computer, and satellite technology as well.

Hun Sen Will Continue to be a Prime Ministerial Candidate Forever

4th April 2008
By Mayarith
Radio Free Asia

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization
http://khmerization.blogspot.com/


Prime Minister Hun Sen (pictured) said that he will continue to stand as a PM candidate forever, if the PM candidates from the opposition party is the same person.

PM Hun Sen, who held power since the 1980s and who has been elected PM 3 times since the UN-organised election, have come under criticism of being stubbornly not wanting to give up power.

Speaking to supporters in Banteay Meanchey province, Mr. Hun Sen criticised the opposition party of doing exactly the same as him. In an apparent reference to Mr. Sam Rainsy, Mr. Hun Sen said: “If he still continue to be an opposition leader, I will continue to be a PM candidate. We both have held on to our position for a long time, we are the same, so I wish you good luck and you just wish me good luck. As long as you are still an opposition leader, I will still be a leader of a ruling party. There is nothing wrong. Don’t say that the PM is the same person. What about the opposition leader? He is the same person also, what can you say about that? No way! Please be clear about this: if the people wanted to elect a new or elect an old leader, it’s their choice. Don’t say that the PM is the same face and we must change. What about you? You are the same opposition leader for a long time, why don’t you say anything about yourself?”

It must be noted that Mr. Hun Sen’s speech came 3 months before the parliamentary election and an election to elect a leader for the new government of the 4th mandate.

Government-authorized SRP Sunday rally to take place in front of the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh

CALLING ALL OUR COMPATRIOTS TO JOINTHE MASS RALLY ORGANIZED BY SRP MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENTTO DEMAND THAT THE GOVERNMENT LOWER THE PRICES OF MERCHANDISESOR PROVIDE SALARY INCREASES FOR CIVIL SERVANTS AND WORKERSCOMMENSURATE WITH THE PRICES OF GOODS

THIS MASS RALLY HAS RECEIVED PERMISSION FROM THE INTERIOR MINISTRY

SECURITY AND SAFETY WILL BE ENSURED
BY THE PHNOM PENH MUNICIPALITY AUTHORITIES


(Following a meeting between the Sam Rainsy Party and the Phnom PenhMunicipality this morning, Saturday, April 5, 2008)

THE RALLY WILL START ON SUNDAY, APRIL 6, 2008 AT 08:00 A.M.
IN FRONT OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY BUILDING IN PHNOM PENH


When H.E. Sam Rainsy was the Minister of Economy and Finance between 1993and 1994, the prices of goods on the market were low and stable. At thattime, the price of one liter of gasoline was only 600 riels, and one kilo ofrice cost only 600 riels.

In order to reduce the prices of goods on the market right now, the SRPdemands that the government adopt the following measures:

1- Lower taxes on gasoline and lower the profit margin made by gasolinedistributors.

2- End the commercial monopolies granted to a number of cunning merchantsand dishonest companies which allow them to increase the prices of goods asthey please because of lack of effective competition.

3- Ensure an adequate economic, financial and monetary policy so as topreserve the stability of the riel.

4- Control the printing of bank notes so as to avoid issuing paper money inan irresponsible and disorderly manner. If the government continues toinflate money supply, the riel will continue to depreciate and inflationwill continue to accelerate.

5- Implement land reform by distributing unused state-owned lands tolandless farmers or those who do not have enough land to live on, so as toincrease agricultural production nationwide. For the tens of thousands ofhectares of lands grabbed or stolen from the State or from the people bycorrupt government officials and cunning businessmen, they must be returnedback to the people so that Cambodian farmers can effectively plant cropsneeded to counter inflation.

If the prices of goods double, salaries must also be doubled

For more information please call 012 858 857 or 012 753 877 or 016 353 427

Ministry of Interior Permits Demonstration in Front of the National Assembly

Posted on 6 April 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 554

Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen wished Sam Rainsy to reach the age of one hundred years
Leaders of the opposition party may face legal action.

Sam Rainsy asked 24 lawmakers to return to Phnom Penh to hold a demonstration on 6 April 2008.

Latest information: The Ministry of Interior permitted demonstration in front of the National Assembly.

“Phnom Penh: The Ministry of Interior decided on 4 April 2008 that the demonstration, which will be led by the Sam Rainsy on 6 April 2008, can be held in front of the new National Assembly building. However, it does not allow any march. Mr. Sam Rainsy, the president of the opposition party, has not made a final decision whether or not the Sam Rainsy Party [SRP] will also march during the demonstration. Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen wished Mr. Sam Rainy to reach the age of one hundred years, so that he will continue to compete with him on the stage of Cambodian politics.

“A reliable source said that in the morning of 4 April 2008, Phnom Penh municipal authorities convened an urgent meeting under the direction of Mr. Kep Chuk Tema, the Phnom Penh municipal governor. The meeting aimed to watch over the demonstration of the SRP planned for 6 April 2008.
District governors, chiefs of police, and chiefs of military police from all seven districts were present at the meeting.

“Sources from the meeting said that Mr. Kep Chuk Tema told the participants to be prepared, in order to ensure security around the clock. All equipment to be used must be prepared and made available in the related districts and in the related areas, such as markets, and particularly around the headquarter of the SRP.

“Mr. Kep Chuk Tema gave orders for the time of the demonstration, ‘Our police and the authorities of the seven districts must have enough forces available at any time to prevent illegal acts. The municipal authorities must prevent the opposition party, opportunists, or dishonest groups from doing anything that causes difficulties, insecurity, social disorder, and fears to the million of people who are living in Phnom Penh. Such problems can be caused by a handful of people.’

“However, according to the same source, Mr. Kep Chuk Tema said that this year there is no ‘die-hard volunteer activist’ who opposes the government and the Phnom Penh municipal authorities, as it was in 1998 and 2003. For the last several days, the SRP hired moto-taxi and tuk-tuk drivers to distribute leaflets to appeal to people to participate in the demonstration on 6 April 2008. Also, Mr. Sam Rainsy turned around and sought activists in the provinces to help. Therefore the district authorities and the police must observe everywhere in Phnom Penh. If there is any mobile force from the provinces entering Phnom Penh, the authorities must stop such potential forces.

“The Phnom Penh municipality is afraid that on 6 April 2008, if the demonstration still proceeds marching, leaders of the demonstration cannot control the demonstrators, and the demonstration could become violent, as demonstrators walking might take things from other people in their houses, shops, and markets. All demonstrators could then face legal action.

“The municipality has arranged three lawyers to manage any cases relating to the demonstration planned for 6 April 2008.

“Mr. Kep Chuk Tema gave an absolute order that the municipality does not allow any [marching] demonstrations, whether they are violent or non-violent, because such demonstrations are not a solution. The demonstration can not solve any problem, such as the increasing price of many goods and rice; and the government and the municipality are taking measures to deal with these problem.

“Mr. Sam Rainsy said that the SRP told its 24 lawmakers who are in their fieldwork to return to Phnom Penh on Saturday, 5 April 2008, to participate in the demonstration scheduled on Sunday, 6 April 2008. Mr. Sam Rainsy added, ‘I will participate as well, but we have to wait for the information from the negotiators with the municipality.’ He said that SRP lawmakers, including Ho Vann, Nou Sovath, and Sok Sothy, may continue to negotiate with the municipality even in the afternoon of 5 April 2008, but he has not yet received any information about the status of the negotiations. After the municipality had stated its firm position to prohibit a [marching] demonstration, Mr. Sam Rainsy has not yet decided whether or not the demonstration would be held with a march or just at one place, or whether it would be canceled. He has to wait for information from the negotiators with the municipality. He said, ‘We cannot do anything based on the decision made by only one person. We must talk with those who are in charge and with the government.

“Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen wished the president of the opposition party to reach the age of one hundred years .

“Samdech Akak Moha Senapadei Dekchor Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, wished the president of the opposition party the great strength to compete in upcoming elections.

“Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen sent Mr. Sam Rainsy such a wish during the inauguration of Meanchey University in Banteay Meanchey, in the morning of 4 April 2008.

“Samdech Dekchor said, ‘I want to compete with the strong, not with the weak.’ He added, ‘I don’t want to compete with those who are not strong and who are weak.’

“Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen said that he wished the president of the opposition party good health up to the age of one hundred years. If he continues to be the leader of the opposition party, Samdech will continue to be leader of the ruling party. He said, ‘Provided that you continue to be the leader of the opposition party, I continue to be leader of the ruling party.

There is nothing wrong if the prime minister is the same person, because the president of the opposition party is also the same.’

“Samdech Hun Sen added that the selection of a new prime minister, to have the same one again, or to change, is up to the decision of the Cambodian people.

“According to the latest information, the Ministry of Interior agreed to allow the SRP to conduct a demonstration in front of the new building of the National Assembly, but it did not allow any march.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4559, 5.4.2008

Global rice reserves at lowest

Sat, 05 Apr 2008
Press TV

Global rice reserves are at their lowest in 30 years and wholesale price of rice in Thailand has increased to $580 per tone in past three months.

Rice is one of the most important parts of daily diet in many Asian countries. People of China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran are among those who at least consume rice once in a day.

The rising price of rice undoubtedly imposes hardship to many people in these countries.

Thailand and Vietnam are the first two largest exporters of rice in the world and the latest news indicate Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia have imposed restrictions on their rice exports to assure having enough rice for their domestic consumption.

Vietnam has reduced its rice exports, Cambodia has banned exports of rice altogether and Indonesia has levied a new tax on its rice exports.

Afzal Ali, an Asian Development Bank economist, predicts shortage of rice and its higher price could cause some social tensions and that is the main reason some Southeast Asian countries have imposes restrictions on rice exportation.

Social tensions can prove to be very dangerous, class tension destabilizes the countries and that is why Southeast Asian countries are so sensitive to the issue, he added.

The Philippines, with 58 million citizens, imports more than 2 million tons of rice annually and more than any other Southeast Asian nation is vulnerable.

The country does not have enough arable land to produce its own consumption needs and about 10 million of its population is suffering from hunger.

Thaksin urges Thais not to believe fortune-teller


April 6, 2008

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra Saturday urged Thais not to believe a fortune-teller who predicted bloodshed next month.

Before boarding a plane to Cambodia, Thaksin said the people should not be serious about predictions by fortune tellers.

He was approached for comments on a prediction by well-known fortune-teller Warin, who predicted that bloodshed would happen in May and Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Anupong Poachida would become the prime minister.

Thaksin said all sides should cooperate to try to solve the country's problems.

The Nation

Thaksin in Cambodia to play golf with Hun Sen

chinaview.cn
2008-04-05

PHNOM PENH, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra arrive in Cambodia on Saturday afternoon, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Saturday.

"Tomorrow morning we will play golf together in Siem Reap province," Hun Sen said at a road construction ceremony in Preah Vihear province next to Thai border.

"I also seem to have a bit of fever. I worried that tomorrow I could not hold the golf club to play with Thaksin," he joked.

"We contacted each other by phone regularly after he was deposed," Hun Sen said previously, adding that they are friends.

Editor: Du Guodong

US presses coup charges against Cambodian rebel

The Bangkok Post

Los Angeles (dpa) - Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a southern California resident who allegedly led the attempted overthrow of Cambodia's government in November 2000.

Yasith Chhun, 51, president of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, was charged with conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States and engaging in a military expedition against a nation with which the United States is at peace.

Chhun could face life in prison without parole if found guilty. He denies the charges.

Prosecutors allege that Chhun met with former members of the Khmer Rouge military in October 1998 at the Cambodia-Thailand border to plan an overthrow of the Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Prosecutors say that Chhun raised money in the United States and masterminded the attempted coup against Hun Sen, which included armed attacks on government buildings by an estimated 60 men. Three of the attackers were killed, and an unknown number of Cambodian citizens and security forces died in the incident. Hun Sen was unscathed.

A skull fest

There isn’t a great deal to do in Phnom Penh, where the greatest tourism draw is the Killing Fields. Beneath the surface though, the city is alive.

The Choeng Ek “Killing Fields” memorial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Saturday April 5, 2008

BY ROSE YASMIN KARIM
yasmin@thestar.com.my

Had the world known more about Phnom Penh than its tragic past, riddled as it were with savage, ethnic-cleansing programmes and fat old Pol Pot, it would’ve become a real swinging singles’ destination.

Everyone I see looks to be in the flush of youth – the Khmer Rouge had taken it upon themselves to rid the country of old folks and intellectuals in their Year Zero quest for the ultimate peasant-based, Utopian society.

Despite the city not having anything tangible going for it, there is an air of optimism slicing through the place. Boeng Kak Area, a backpackers’ haunt, is swarming with travellers of every description – young and old, stoners and drunkards and the sober ones too – a quarter of whom are in grubby Tin Tin shirts.

It is also quite clear that many of them have been in Cambodia for a long time and are hell-bent on letting everyone know it. Over copies of the English language Cambodian Daily, guys who cultivate the anthropologist look (scruffy beard, headband, faded destination T-shirt) strive to out-yell each other in discussing Cambodian politics.

Having had nothing of substance since the night before, my belly feels like a shrivelled balloon. I peer at a faded menu outside a café – “Samwiches, $1” it says. Moments later, I join the throbbing masses at the plastic table outside, smacking my chops.

You’ve got to love the French. Well, at least the glory of their gastronomic tradition. Instead of getting two soggy slices of white bread with processed cheese sheets and runny tomatoes chucked at us, our lunch arrives in the form of crusty baguette, two triangles of camembert and fresh tomatoes.

Booting the French out of their country was understandable but deciding to keep their cuisine was a stroke of genius on the Cambodians’ part.

After I complete the demolition, I feel duty-bound to make a pilgrimage to the Killing Fields, a place no doubt haunted by the souls of 40,000 unfortunates murdered by Pol Pot and his cronies.

“Of course,” says a tuk-tuk driver in clear, intelligent English, “I will take you.”

With his distinctive latte-coloured skin, almond-shaped eyes and devastating smile, Nimol is utterly divine. And with the plain gold ring on his left hand, he is also utterly married.

“Before we go straight there, you should go first to the Security Prison,” he says.

I gawk at him dumbstruck, wondering if I had done something wrong.

“The Security Prison is actually the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was once a high school before Pol Pot turned it into a torture cell during his regime,” Nimol explains. “Out of over 20,000 people that went through there, only seven came out alive.”

I am not altogether sure I want to make a habit of loitering around this kind of scene, but Nimol starts up his bike and insists, “Believe me, it is necessary. It will help you understand what happened to our country.”

By the time we pull up outside Tuol Sleng, I already have a better idea of the horrors that had ravaged this small nation. As we puttered down muddy back streets en route, Nimol had filled me in on how the Khmer Rouge had killed or kidnapped nearly every member of his family – part of the despised intellectual class.

He escaped execution solely through luck and had witnessed dozens of terrifying murders.

“You must be extremely bitter,” I had said, mentally kicking myself for the understatement.

Jamu must be bitter. He must have been psychologically butchered. Amazingly, he wasn’t.

“It was an awful nightmare but it’s over. This country has grieved and suffered enough. Now we believe it’s time to look to the future.”

I was awestruck by his attitude towards life. I could imagine going insane if I were put through that kind of hell. I still hold a grudge against people who pissed me off in primary three.

I stop at the gate and take in the surroundings. If you took away the barbed wire and barred windows, the complex could have been any high school, with its nondescript building and central courtyard. But there is a terrible feeling about the place, and I find myself breathing through my hand, which is clamped across my mouth.

Tuol Sleng is the “deathliest” place in the world.

I shell out the US$2 (RM6) entry fee to a woman at the door and am told to wander about as I choose.

“You can go inside anywhere you want and take many pictures,” she says. ‘We want the world to know of this evil.”

I guess the world already has a fair idea about it. I just wish I’d known more. Maybe then I wouldn’t be bordering on nausea like I am now.

No matter how many times you read the word “blood-smeared wall”, the reality doesn’t truly hit home until you’ve accidentally leaned against one. And all those bland historical statistics mean nothing until you’ve tripped over Genocide Victim No 3651’s iron foot shackle.

Due to either shoddy housekeeping or a desire to prove how repellent humans can be to one another, the cells at Tuol Sleng have been left untouched since 1976. Dark stains cling like ghosts to the walls, the floors, and, in one particularly frightening room, the ceiling. The original barbed wire still weaves a menacing tapestry around many of the cell doorways.

I am filled with rage when I read a sign – “The Security Regulations” – which spell out all the do’s and don’ts, otherwise the inmates would be subjected to “many shocks with the electrical wire”. Everything from crying to being “a fool” was out of bounds. I can only thank God that I wasn’t anywhere near Cambodia circa 1979. I would’ve been toast.

Another building bears testament to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Wallpapered with thousands of black and white photos of the victims of Tuol Sleng – many of them women and children – the hall here is full of torture devices and the personal effects of those who had died there. An entire wall is taken up with a map of Cambodia, created wholly from human skull.

After immersing myself in the ghastly realism of Tuol Sleng, I am not super-keen to get to the Killing Fields or Choeng Ek. But Nimol is dead set on getting me there.

While I understand showing foreigners around these places might in some way contribute to the healing process, I also have a vague inkling that Nimol thinks that a journalist like me could bring the plight of the Cambodian people to the world.

What he probably doesn’t understand is that the world already knows, but doesn’t really give a toss. If the Cambodians want international exposure, they are going to have to start playing cricket and play it well. But with up to 10 million landmines still lurking in the countryside, this isn’t the best of ideas, is it?

Choeng Ek could almost have been mistaken for a picnic area. But the minute I stroll across the grass towards it, I can tell this is no place for a family outing.

The Killing Fields are a major skull fest. It was here, among tired shrubs and thin earth that Khmer Rouge killed and disposed 40,000 countrymen, women and children.

Like Tuol Sleng, the Killing Fields have a nasty, unmistakable aura of death. But just in case anyone fails to pick up on this or the grisly shrine that contains a skull skyscraper at the entrance, they are brought up to date, thanks to grim signs pointing to things like the “MASS GRAVE OF 166 VICTIMS WITHOUT HEADS”.

I tread along obvious mine-free paths. The impending sunset adds an extra touch of melancholy to the place.

Although I had pulled up at Choeng Ek determined to give it the respectful attention it deserves, all I can manage is a quick lap before traipsing back to the bike. I have an idea now of the brutal past of the country, and it is none to pretty.

Most importantly, I have grasped that because there are people like Nimol who dream of a better world, this brutal past will eventually be trampled beneath a stampede towards a brighter future.

Cambodia strongly opposes any disturbing activities against 2008 Olympics

chinaview.cn
2008-04-05
Special report: 2008 Olympic Games

PHNOM PENH, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia strongly opposes any attempts and actions aiming to interrupt the Olympic Games to be held in Beijing, said Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday at a road construction ceremony in Preah Vihear province.

The Olympic Games is sports event only, but why do some people never stop to make the problems, Hun Sen asked.

"I once ordered Minister of Interior to stop a ceremony that some people planned in Phnom Penh against the Olympic Games," he added.

According to official sources, Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni has accepted the invitation from China to attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Cambodian government earlier established a 10-member delegation to participate in the Beijing Games.

Dith Pran, hero of “The Killing Fields,” dies at 65

2008.04.04
Radio Free Asia

by Dan Southerland

For a brief period in 1970, I had the privilege of working in wartime Cambodia with Dith Pran, who became famous as the New York Times interpreter who survived the Khmer Rouge and became the key figure in the movie “The Killing Fields.”

After reaching the United States, Pran became a photographer for The Times and started a center to teach people about the Khmer Rouge genocide.

He was the best interpreter and “fixer” with whom I worked in Cambodia. I remember him for his cheerfulness in spite of adversity, a quality that goes a long way in the middle of a war.

I was so impressed with Pran that I included some of his comments in a story that I wrote for The Christian Science Monitor.

It was during the first year of the five-year Cambodian War. Pran, 27 years old at the time, still hoped that his countrymen could prevail against seasoned North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. My story, dated Dec. 16, 1970, describes a road trip we took together through war-battered towns and villages north of Phnom Penh. Dith Pran died on March 30 at the age of 65.

Reprinted with permission of the Christian Science Monitor

Cambodians: ‘We are united’

By Daniel Southerland, Special correspondent

The Christian Science Monitor Christian Science Monitor Dec 16, 1970
While Americans debate whether Cambodia could become “another Vietnam,” one’s thoughts flash back to what a few Cambodians said on the subject several weeks ago.

We were traveling by car to Taing Kauk, the village where the Cambodian Army was stalled in its northward drive.

Our Cambodian interpreter, Dith Pran, a thin, friendly youth, used to guide tourists through the ancient ruins of Angkor. Now he guides journalists through the modern ruins of places like Skoun and Taing Kauk. His own home in Siem Reap, next to Angkor, has joined Cambodia’s new ruins.

It was destroyed in fighting between the Cambodian Army and the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

“This is not a civil war like the Vietnam war,” Dith Pran was saying as we neared the Tonle Sap ferry crossing. “This is a war of aggression.”

Unity Stressed

“If we can get the right aid, we can win, because we Khmers are united as one block,” he said cheerfully. “We’re not divided like the Vietnamese.”

“We don’t want foreign troops here,” he said, but added that South Vietnamese troops would probably be needed a while longer in Cambodia, disliked though they were as ancient enemies.

On the battered outskirts of Skoun, we picked up two hitchhikers, both former schoolteachers, now, like so many others, with the Army. They were returning to Taing Kauk to see what was left of their homes now that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had been driven out.

The first sights of Taing Kauk were not encouraging. Air strikes and artillery had bashed in the roof and walls of the school building which served as a Viet Cong headquarters.

Then we saw the home of Mam Saath, one of the teachers. Just a few pillars were left, standing in a pile of rubble. Not surprised at the loss of his home, Mam Saath and the other teacher left us then, smiling, bowing politely, thanking us for the ride.

Monks invited us to spend the night in Taing Kauk’s main Buddhist pagoda. It was particularly recommended by one and all, because its thick walls were good protection against mortar attack, and Taing Kauk was taking mortar fire almost every night at the time.

In the pagoda, two Cambodian civilian physicians, now attached to the Army, offered us a meal of American C rations purchased on the black market in Phnom Penh.

‘This is different’

“The American people think this is a civil war, don’t they?” said one of the doctors, opening an olive-green can of ham. He spoke French.

“But perhaps they’re beginning to understand, aren’t they?” he asked, a worried look on his face.
“This is different from the war in Vietnam,” he said.

The two physicians worked at the Soviet-built hospital in Phnom Penh, known as the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital. They told how the Russian physicians at the hospital refused to treat the war wounded who were arriving there with increasing frequency.

‘Now we know’

“In the past, we made a mistake about who our real friends were,” said one of the uniformed physicians, referring to the Sihanouk era of good relations with the Soviet Union. “Now we know who our friends are.”

The two Cambodians expressed the hope that the United States would become a true friend. They agreed that Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew’s visit to Phnom Penh in August was “symbolic” of American support for the Lon Nol government. Still, they seemed uncertain about how far the U.S. Government would go in helping them.

It was dark now, and overhead a heavily armed South Vietnamese Air Force plane took up its vigil, flying lazy circles, its lights blinking, providing protection for the Cambodian troops below.

Plane reassuring

The visiting newspaper reporter remarked that it was comforting to hear the sound of the Vietnamese plane overhead. It would be nice to have around in case of an attack.

“We don’t put much trust in the Vietnamese,” said one of the doctors, his voice suddenly grown cool.

“But the Vietnamese do have some good pilots,” said the reporter.

“Yes, and we could have good pilots, too, if somebody would train them,” the Cambodian said, his voice rising sharply.

"If only we had our own tanks and helicopters…,” said the other doctor.

I later learned that the South Vietnamese plane which had been flying overhead that night was shot down the next day. No one seemed to know, or care, if there were any survivors among the plane’s crew — men so needed, yet so detested, by the Cambodians they were supposed to protect.

Former sex slave leads rescue of others

Nic Lumpp, left, and Jared Greenberg listen to Somaly Mam of Cambodia on Friday. The two head a U.S. effort to fund her fight against the sex-slave trade. (John Prieto, The Denver Post )

By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
04/05/2008

Working as a teenage sex slave in a Cambodian brothel, Somaly Mam says, she served up to 30 clients a night. Some hit her. "I never thought, just lived hour by hour. I played with nothing. In my head: nothing. It was dark, dark, dark. I never trusted people," Mam said Friday during a visit to Denver.

"I was dead."

She tried suicide, she said.

Her turning point: the day a brothel pimp fired a bullet through the head of her friend, Srymom, who dared refuse customers — a warning to other girls to obey. Mam said she then began trying to help a newcomer, a girl with dark skin like hers, eventually using the brothel keys to set her free.

Brothel owners soon released Mam, deeming her too old for Cambodia's booming sex trade.

Ever since, Mam has been arranging rescues of child sex slaves, more than 4,000 over the past decade. The group she formed — Acting for Women in Distressing Situations — counsels and rehabilitates them at shelters in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Now Mam and two former U.S. Air Force Academy cadets, Nic Lumpp and Jared Greenberg, are launching a private U.S. effort to fight the multi billion-dollar sex trade that governments and police have been unable to kill.

Based in Denver, the Somaly Mam Foundation (somaly.org) has raised $400,000 and aims to collect $1 million by July, thanks to corporate and celebrity backers such as actress Susan Sarandon.

"We need the United States. Americans are more active," Mam said. Cambodia's own efforts to combat the sex trade have been crippled by corruption of police and courts.

A preview of the film "Holly" tonight at Denver's Starz Film Center, continuing through next week, is designed to help publicize the effort. A fundraiser has been set for next week in New York. And Mam's published account of her slavery, "The Road of Lost Innocence," is scheduled for release this fall.

After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2005, Lumpp and Greenberg resolved to do something about the global sex trade.

"It outraged us," said Lumpp, 25. "We couldn't just stand by and talk about it. It's a blatant disregard for human life."

Greenberg now works as a management consultant in Los Angeles, and Lumpp runs a Denver-based Web business that helps parents teach children financial skills.

They discovered Mam's work and sent her e-mails. She received those with great skepticism, she said, and told the Americans to come to Cambodia if they wanted to help. They visited for 10 days last year. Mam said she still doubted them, suspecting they were sex tourists or pedophiles.

Meeting them at the airport, "I looked at them thinking: They are young. If they have commitment, that's good. I don't think they are pedophiles."

She brought them to one of her 60-person shelters and watched them carefully as they met recently rescued girls. "I wanted to see their attitude," Mam said.

Lumpp and Greenberg played games. They worked with interpreters to ask the girls and young women questions. Lumpp said they noticed those in Mam's shelters aspired to become educated, whereas those in brothels seemed listless.

Mam said she saw the two crying. "I said to myself: 'We can trust them.' "

"My staff said: You trust them? I said: Yes. They said: Why? I said: I just do. Normally I never trust men."

The foundation's approach is twofold: Campaign to stop foreign sex tourists and others from entering Southeast Asia in the first place, and fund continued rescues and rehab for girls and young women at shelters in Cambodia and neighboring countries.

Today sex-trade owners seek younger girls, as young as 4, said Mam, who was sold from her village into slavery around age 12 after a "grandfather" used her as a household servant.

U.S. diplomats have visited the 60-person shelters, where girls receive counseling, medical care, basic education and training on sewing machines. U.S. officials quietly offered her protection, Mam said. But leaving Cambodia is out of the question. "My heart is with these girls," she said.

Ban on rice exports no cure all

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP People buy discount rice that had been released from government stockpiles, in Phnom Penh on March 27

Written by SEBASTIAN STRANGIO
Friday, 04 April 2008
The Phnom Penh Post

As fears about rising food prices continue to mount, the two-month ban on rice exports announced by the government last week seemed unlikely to have much effect, analysts and politicians said.

Rice vendors on Street 108 in Phnom Penh said the retail price of rice rose from 1,700-2,500 riel per kilogram three months ago to 2,400-3,600 riel in early April as a result of local rice shortages.

The government on March 26 announced a two-month ban on rice exports and state-owned agricultural firm Green Trade flooded the market with cheap surplus grain to alleviate rising costs.

“To ensure food security for Cambodia, Cambodia will stop exporting for two months,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said during a speech in Pailin. “After two months we will reconsider and look at the rice market’s security.”

Five kilograms of cheap Green Trade rice were made available to each buyer in late March.

The ban came after Egypt, a major global rice supplier, announced a six-month halt of rice exports. Vietnam also announced it will limit its 2008 exports to 3.5 million tons – down from an expected total of five million tons.

Opposition members, meanwhile, criticized Cambodia’s export ban, pointing to the government’s poor record of combating inflation. “It shows very poor planning from the government,” said Mu Sochua, deputy secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party.

“If they had done any sort of projections, they would have detected these soaring prices way ahead of time.

“[A ban] is a good thing only if it is part of a plan,” she said. “But it’s way too late. I don’t think there are enough [rice] stocks to maintain the price. That is why the government can only make the promise for two months.”

Kang Chandararot, from the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, said the export ban made sense in theory, but might be difficult to implement.

“How many border crossings do we have with other countries? And how much domestic pressure is there to continue exports? I am skeptical it will be a real success,” he said.

One leading agricultural analyst, who declined to be named, said rice prices are set in a regional economic context. The analyst noted that Vietnam’s price controls have prompted wholesalers there to search out more affordable rice in Cambodia, driving up the price of paddy here.

While Cambodia produces a large surplus of milled rice – some 1.4 million tons in 2007, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries – the lack of suitable storage facilities is forcing farmers to export excess unhusked paddy, often illegally.

“Many Vietnamese merchants come to Cambodia to buy paddy rice,” said Mu Sochua.
“There is an official trade, but mainly it is unofficial.”

Yang Saing Kuma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said government actions have contributed to price stability but added that he was unsure how long it would last.

“The prices are not going up anymore,” he said. “But how long it will continue like this is a big question… You cannot enforce [a total ban] on cross-border trade.”

Kuma said Cambodia needs a long-term plan to build up emergency food supplies.

“What the government should do is provide more soft loans to rice millers to buy rice from farmers during the harvest season, at the same price offered by [foreign] traders,” he said. “If the government has enough rice stocks then we can ensure some stability in the price.”

Workers flee costly city life

Brendan Brady Garment workers leave the Tack Fat factory at the end of their shift, in Phnom Penh on April 3.

Written by Brendan Brady and Meas Sokchea
Friday, 04 April 2008
The Phnom Penh Post

The music and dancing usually found in labor communities ringing factories around Khmer New Year has faded.

It’s been silenced by a struggle with inflation so severe that some workers are returning to their rural homelands as the cost of living in Phnom Penh rises beyond their salaries.

Unions and garment manufacturers are believed to have accepted on April 1 a government-sponsored $6 monthly minimum wage hike for garment and shoe factory workers. If formalized on April 4 as expected, the deal will avert strikes that have been delayed since March 28.

While the government backed the Free Trade Union’s demanded pay raise, the Minister of Social Affairs, Ith Sam Heng, accused Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun and FTU president Chea Mony of seeking wage increases for political gain.

Heng said he has ordered a legal team to assess whether to pursue action against the CCU, which includes the FTU and is widely acknowledged to be affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

Political maneuvering aside, questions remain whether the $6 raise will be enough to improve the welfare of the workers.

“In past years, as Khmer New Year approached, workers would always gather along the road near the factories in Chak Angre for dancing at night,” said Hok Setha, who represents workers at the USA factory there.

“But now it’s been very quiet. Many of the workers in the area returned to their homeland because of inflation.”

He said five workers from his factory have already quit and he will join them to return to his home in Saang district, Kandal, to farm.

“Working on rice harvests, we can earn $3 or more a day, but working in the factory we get less than $2,” said the 28-year-old.

Sim Sophal, 43, has worked at the CIT New garment factory nearly a decade and still receives the minimum monthly wage of $50.

Her 1,000-riel meals now cost 1,500 or 2,000 riel and her monthly housing rent that used to be $5 has climbed by 50 percent.

She said she will look for another job, along with ten of her co-workers, because she can no longer afford the cost of living in Phnom Penh, let along save money to send to her family in the countryside.

Chhan Sreymao, 27, a worker at the Hat Enterprise factory in Phnom Penh’s Ang Snuol district, said about ten workers were quitting each month to return to their villages or to look for higher paying jobs.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said about 2,000 workers left in March as soaring inflation made living in Phnom Penh impossible for them.

In 50 factories in the provinces of Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Speu, he said, “20 to 50 workers per month have quit at each factory because their salary couldn't pay for their living expenses. Eighty to 90 percent of them returned to their homelands and a small number have remained in Phnom Penh looking for a new job.”

He said the discussed minimum increases are not enough to convince workers to stay.
Chea Mony, secretary-general of the CCU and president of the FTU, said he expected significant numbers of workers in Phnom Penh to leave the city in April and May.

“I’ve found many female workers have gone to restaurants after they left the factories. This job can give them more income than factory work so I don't blame them.”

Alonzo Suson, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said some factory owners are complaining of labor shortages and are considering relocating their factories to the countryside where costs are lower.

However, while inflation has created hardship for many workers, it is unlikely they can simply flee to the countryside in droves, said Tuomo Poutiainen, an advisor for the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program.

“You already have some 250,000 people joining the labor force every year,” Poutiainen said. “What will the departing workers do? It’s not the favored work of Cambodians to be in the field.”

John Ritchotte, a labor dispute advisor for ILO Cambodia, said that while the current wage disputes were triggered by inflation, “to my knowledge there aren’t discussions about broader issues of productivity and competitiveness, and I think that was a missed opportunity.”

Lang Phalla, 26, from Prey Veng, whose salary is pegged to the minimum wage, is struggling with her present income. “I’m happy about the raise but $6 is not enough with the rising prices.”

Govt steps up after landslide

CHOR SOKUNTHEAR Passersby watch recovery efforts at the site of a landslide on the bank of the Tonle Sap, north of the Cambodian Japanese Friendship Bridge, April 2.

Written by The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 04 April 2008

The government will provide replacement housing for the victims of the April 1 riverbank collapse that cast 39 stilt houses into the waters of the Tonle Sap, according to local authorities.

The landslide in Sammaky village of Russey Keo district, about 6km north of Phnom Penh, occurred at 2:50pm on Tuesday and left 61 families temporarily homeless. Although authorities at first feared fatalities, most of the houses were unoccupied at the time of the incident and there were few reported injuries.

“No one was hurt in my family,” said a 23-year-old woman who survived the landslide. “We just lost a lot ofproperty. We don’t know how much yet.”

Dang Sophanna, assistant Chief Commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy in Phnom Penh, said that two young people suffered head injuries in the landslide, but that more serious harm was averted by the quick action of the authorities.

“The navy was later on the scene than the police but [we] saved several people from the water,” he told the Post.

The Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, Lim Kean Hor, denied the collapse had been caused by the extraction of sand from the river, saying the landslip was the result of poor building foundations.

Survivors are currently being housed near the site of the collapse and fed by commune authorities until alternate land is made available by the government, according to Tieng Sophal, a Russey Keo commune councilor.

“His Excellency Kep Chutema (Governor of Phnom Penh) has promised to provide new land in Dangkor district for those whose houses collapsed into the river,” she said.

Russey Keo District Governor Khleang Huort expressed his sympathy for the homeless and confirmed that the municipal government had plans to provide new land in Dangkor district.

“The police are counting currently estimating the value of the property lost in the disaster,” he said.

However, Huort warned that nearby stilt houses were in danger of further landslides and urged the governor to speed up plans for their relocation.

“I’m afraid the land of some nearby people will also collapse,” he said.

Phok Kheoun, 52, who was at home at the time of the incident, said he lost all his possessions when the ground gave way. “I managed to grab my children and grandchildren just in time. But I lost everything.

“I was very glad when I heard the announcement that the government would give us new land in Dangkor district,” he said. (Sebastian Strangio and Khouth Sophak Chakrya)