Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Gold dealers operating in state of fear after string of armed attacks

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Gold trinkets on display at a gold shop in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

After a spate of armed robberies in Phnom Penh, gold sellers fear for their lives and livelihoods. Many vendors say there is nothing more they can do to ensure their safety

GOLD and diamond vendors across the Kingdom are operating in a state of constant fear after a slew of robberies in Phnom Penh last week, which included three carefully coordinated daytime hits where heavily armed gangs stole an estimated US$400,000 worth of gold.

"We were very concerned when we heard about the recent robberies. We are now having meetings with our security guards about having 24-hour guards to improve our security," a vendor at Mokod Pich Gold Shop near Central Market, who identified herself only as Nary, told the Post.

Many vendors, however, say private guards are not enough.

Lim Kong, 55, the proprietor of Lim Kong Diamond & Jewelry Shop, said even though her shop had security guards, she did not think they would serve as a deterrent as the majority of the current robberies have been perpetrated by heavily armed gangs.

Last month, she said, one of the gold shops near her shop was robbed by an armed gang that was not deterred by the shop's armed security guards.

"They were not scared of the guards because they all had guns," she said.

"They stopped their car in front of the shop, came into the shop and just took all the gold, valuables and money."

Govt slow to react

" They were not scared of the guards, because they all had guns. "

Many gold sellers blame the government for not doing more. "So far, I have not heard of any robbers being arrested," Lim Kong said.

Chheng Sophors, an investigator with the rights group Licadho, said authorities have been slow to react.

Suon Sareth, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), pointed out that robberies increased after the death of National Police chief Hok Lundy.

But, Khieu Sopheak, spokesman at the Ministry of Interior, has steadfastly denied the connection. "The recent upsurge in serious crime has nothing to do with the death of Hok Lundy."

Fears of gold heists have spread from the capital to the provinces.

Hok Layny, owner of an eponymous gold and diamond shop in Siem Reap, said that now she is always worried about her safety.

"Even though I have security guards at my shop, I remain afraid for the safety of my shop," she said.

Lin Leang Nguon, 44, whose wife sells gold at Phsar Ler in Kampong Chhnang province, said he constantly worries about his wife's safety after he heard about the robberies in Phnom Penh. He said Kampong Chhnang province had a series of gold robberies in 2003, and he does not want that to happen again.

CHRAC's Suon Sareth emphasised that these robberies do not just alarm gold sellers but instill a sense of fear across the general populace.

Chheng Sophors agreed. "The government should not let such robberies happen because they threaten the security of the society as a whole," he said.

A personal assistant to the newly appointed National Police chief said Tuesday that Neth Savoeun had already ordered Phnom Penh's municipal police chief and heads of provincial police to crack down on armed robbery.

But he would not elaborate what the crackdown would entail.

Court casts wide net, but at what cost?

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
The courtroom at Cambodia's Extraordinary Chambers may see its first trial next year.

NEXT in the dock


Duch aka Kaing Guk Eav, former head of S-21 prison, charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. His trial is expected early next year.


Ieng Sary former KR foreign minister
Ieng Thirith former minister of social action.
Khieu Samphan former head of state
Nuon Chea Pol Pot's top lieutenant

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cat Barton
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Khmer Rouge tribunal is seeking to broaden its investigations with a second submission, but with the Cambodian prosecutor already hestitant, critics ask: 'What will the govt do?'

WITH the Cambodian co-prosecutor resisting a proposed investigation into six more potential suspects at the Kingdom's war crimes court, critics warn the appearance of government interference could destroy the UN-backed tribunal's legitimacy.

Many senior government posts are occupied by former Khmer Rouge cadre, and experts say the government fears that a wider roundup could expose senior officials to scrutiny.

"The more the tribunal starts to spread its net, the more it will get close to people who are close to the powerholders today," said Philip Short, historian and author of Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare.

"Hun Sen doesn't want that - and that is why his government has been dragging its feet for so long," he added.

At the centre of the controversy is Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang, who was appointed by the Cambodian government and, according to a 2006 article in the International Justice Tribune, is Deputy Prime Minister Sok An's niece.

Five senior Khmer Rouge leaders believed to be the architects of the regime's brutal policies are in detention at the court: former head of state Khieu Samphan; foreign affairs minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, the regime's first lady; S-21 head Duch; and Pol Pot's chief lieutenant, Nuon Chea.

A second batch of suspects would require the court to move further down the regime's hierarchy - something Hun Sen's government has long resisted.

"The Hun Sen government, for obvious reasons, wants to keep the list of accused to a handful of highly symbolic and high-profile Khmer Rouge figures who have [had] nothing whatever to do with the present government or previous governments in which Hun Sen has been a player," Short told the Post via email Monday.

"Hun Sen himself was a KR deputy regimental commander. Sure, it was a low-ranking post - and when he realised he was in danger, he fled.

But he was part of the KR, and he remained part of the KR until 1977. By that time, lots of abominable things had happened," Short added.

Senate President Chea Sim was formerly a Khmer Rouge district chief, while president of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin, was a Khmer Rouge division commander, which is "a relatively important post".

"Keat Chhon was minister of state in Pol Pot's office when Pol Pot was prime minister. Does he really bear no responsibility for the actions of a regime of which he was a government minister?" Short asked.

Despite their previous roles, however, no evidence has ever surfaced that any of the country's current senior leaders were responsible for crimes committed during the regime.

Why spread the net wider?

"People come to court to hear who killed their father, who ordered their sister to be raped or why was he transferred," said the court's international co-prosecutor Robert Petit in an interview Monday, discussing the very personal level on which victims view war crimes tribunals.

"When it is people [in the dock] who are deemed to be architects of one of those conflicts, they generally go away disappointed as they haven't heard that explanation," he added.

Duch's case, which likely will be the first to be heard early next year, has been separated from the other four detainees - all senior KR leaders - who collectively make up the second case.

When the trials of the senior leaders begin, the court may skirt the finer details of the Khmer Rouge's crimes, instead focusing on proving a link between the senior leaders in the dock and the atrocities in question.

"You seldom find that memo, ‘Please kill everyone, signed, Me'," Petit said.

"The issues in these cases are usually the linkage between the crime base and the suspects.

Whereas, if you go down the food chain, you are more close to the crime base, more close to the actual carrying out of orders and the actual responsibility, the direct committing or direct responsibility - and that helps people understand a little bit better what happened.

" But Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), expressed concern that the court, which has already blown its original budget and timeframe, could be overstretched by new cases, which could jeopardise the progress it has already made.

"The credibility of the [Extraordinary Chambers] depends on the trials of the five defendants who are now in its hands," Youk Chhang said.

"The victims want to know from the ECCC ... when will the trials be taking place. Without completing this important stage of the process, it will be difficult to discuss other investigations. In fact, it would generate negative effects on the current proceedings," he said.

Despite a recent fundraising drive, the Cambodian side of the court, failing further contributions, will run out of money in March 2009, court officials say. The UN side of the court will follow suit in May, according to court spokesman Reach Sambath. He added, however, that the court was "confident and optimistic" that further funds would be found.

Government interference?

Experts are wondering whether the government would dare seek to use Chea Leang to block the proposed further investigations.

"I suspect they wouldn't be happy and would do what they could," said David Chandler, historian and author of History of Cambodia.

"What they can do is clearly formidable, or we would have had this trial months, if not years ago," he told the Post via email Sunday.

Such government meddling would destroy the court's legitimacy, according to Open Society Justice Initiative's executive director, James Goldston.

"Tragically, the United Nations-backed court in Phnom Penh investigating and prosecuting those most responsible for the Khmer Rouge's crimes in Cambodia is at risk of doing just that," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published December 14.

Blocking the second set of prosecutions could exacerbate allegations that the co-prosecutor is acting at the behest of the Cambodian government.

"[Hun Sen is] willing to have a trial - but only as long as it's a symbolic trial and it doesn't come within a mile of anyone he wants to protect," said Short.

F'pec rattled by more defections

Photo by: Vandy Rattana
Better days: Funcinpec party members campaign in Sihanoukville in July. They lost the coastal constituency

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Forty-one Funcinpec members left the party in December, with 100 more defections expected

CAMBODIA'S beleaguered Royalist party Funcinpec suffered a further blow Tuesday with the announcement that 41 high-ranking members had defected in December alone.

Ok Socheat, a former adviser to Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey who crossed to the Cambodia People's Party on December 12, told the Post Tuesday that defectors had joined the ruling party and that he anticipated around 100 Funcinpec district and provincial officials would jump ship soon.

He expected the new defections would be announced when Prime Minister Hun Sen approves their membership to the CPP.

"We want to show that our country is united and we support Hun Sen, as we believe he is more effective at national development," Ok Socheat said.

Hun Sen on Monday vowed to remain in power for another 29 years and promised to defeat his political opposition.

"I will stand as my party's candidate for prime minister in the next national elections in 2013, and I will be 61 years old," he said Monday at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.

"I will hold power until the opposition has no power to poison with criticism, and if they don't come to the CPP, they will move to other places," Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen has been prime minister since 1985 and led the CPP to win 90 of 123 National Assembly seats in July's polls.

Prince Sisowath Sirirath, deputy president of Funcinpec, said the Royalists are a democratic party and that members were free to leave.

"We are not concerned about the departure of those officials because they were unemployed and they have to look for a job in the government," Sirirath said.

Fisheries chief brutally slain, police say

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

KAMPONG Thom police are investigating the slaying of the provincial fisheries administration chief found dead in his office this week, the provincial police commissioner told the Post Tuesday.

Chea San said his officers are working as rapidly as possible to identify a suspect in the case with cooperation from the provincial court prosecutor.

The victim, Ek Heng, 37, was discovered on Monday in his office with severe trauma to the head likely caused by a large knife, Chea San said.

"This murder is a big case, and we are working furiously to solve it," Chea San said. "I cannot comment any further as we are now in the middle of a manhunt."

Ek Heng was tapped to lead Kampong Thom's Fisheries Administration early this year.

Un Thanann, a provincial coordinator with the rights group Adhoc, told the Post he last saw Ek Heng on December 12 at the O'Chak fishing community during a meeting to resolve disputes over fishing grounds in Stung district.

He said he did not know who could have been responsible for Ek Heng's slaying but that the killer was probably someone the Fisheries Administration chief had known.

Unidentified man

"Before his death, [Ek Heng] had lunch with an unidentified man before returning to his office," Un Thanann said.

"As a manager, he was not strict or soft. We don't know who might have liked him or disliked him, and there could have been numerous reasons behind the attack," he said.

Kampong Thom Governor Nam Tum, who was in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, told the Post he had been informed of the slaying and had directed provincial police to conduct a thorough investigation.

Nao Thuok, director general of the Fisheries Administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, said Ek Heng's death was a great loss and described him as "a very gentle man".

"I have sent officials to attend the funeral and to collect more information about his death," he said.

This way, please

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A cheerful Father Christmas holds the door open for a confused-looking ACLEDA employee at the bank's Monivong Boulevard branch on Monday.

The hard and the soft of title

Sciaroni & Associates partner Matthew Rendall says the land law is set up to protect the incoming buyer.

The Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Matthew Rendall, a partner at local law firm Sciaroni & Associates, explains the intricacies of the Kingdom's Land Law and what it means for registering, and holding on to, land

THE titling of land and the establishment of ownership rights is one of the most critical issues confronting development in Cambodia today.

While the majority of well-publicised disputes tend to pit the poor against the powerful, certainty of title is a prerequisite for anyone who hopes to own land and build in the Kingdom.

Prime Location caught up with Matthew Rendall, a partner at local law firm Sciaroni & Associates, to talk about the history of Cambodia's land laws, the process of registering title and the ins and outs of dispute resolution.

Can you give a brief history of land title in Cambodia?

In 1989, a regulation was passed allowing private ownership of residential properties and possession status on agricultural property up to five hectares. Prior to that it was all state land.

In 1994, a land law [the Law on the Country Planning, Urbanization and Construction] was passed that basically formalised this and made a distinction between residential properties and nonresidential properties for ownership purposes.

In 2001 the Land Law came along and basically allowed private ownership of most types of land.

How is land registered in Cambodia?

All land will eventually be registered at the Ministry of Land Management cadastral office. At the moment everybody is on what they call soft title, in which land is registered at the local level only and not at the national level. It is technically possession status, not ownership.

Hard title is land that is registered at the national registry and has a title deed. The World Bank is currently sponsoring a program where it is bit-by-bit going around demarcating everything and identifying who owns what.

" What should be happening is the person on the register now should trump, just to give confidence to the system. "

When you buy a piece of land, how do you ensure you have the only title?

The first thing you do is get whatever documentation the person selling the land has, and that will tell you if it is hard title or soft title. If it's national title, you go to the national register and confirm it, but you still reconfirm at the district level that there have been no transactions since the issuance of the national title.

If it is soft title, you would do due-diligence at the local sangkat [commune] office and the district office to identify who they see as the owners or possessors of that piece of land.

You would also do due diligence with the neighbours and ask them who they see as the owners of that land. If each of those people says the same thing, you are pretty safe. If any of those people say something different to the others, then you have to investigate further. Your biggest problem ordinarily is overlapping boundaries; there was no science to demarcating borders in the old days and the creep of overlaps can be quite substantial.

What counts as proof of soft title?

Title documentation can take a variety of forms, including building applications, which act as proof of ownership. Bear in mind that most people have no paperwork - they were just there and never actually formalized anything.

People with no ownership documents will go down to the local sangkat and get a possession status certificate, and that is fine. The other thing you might see is a letter of transfer from the previous possessor stamped by the local sangkat and the district office, and that is proof of soft title at the local level.

It all comes down to the district and local offices recognizing somebody, and they will create the paperwork if need be to confirm that. It is with that bit of paper you go forward.

In the event there is a land dispute, what are the resolution channels?

It depends on the level of registration. If you have soft title it will go to the cadastral committee for dispute resolution. They will go into the area and ask people to tell them who owns what. They will put that up publicly, and, if there are no contestations, that will be put on the national register and that becomes forever-and-a-day ownership with those borders for those people named. If anybody comes forward and contests those demarcations, everybody will need to bring their evidence forward to the cadastral committee and they will assess the evidence and make a call.

There is also a national land dispute committee under the Council of Ministers that was set up a couple of years ago to oversee land disputes that is separate to the cadastral committee. They usually try to get parties to agree to a resolution, but they can make a call.

The third entity is the courts. You should never be denied the right to go to court on any dispute because it's the courts that have that mandate under the constitution. They should be the final arbiter always.

What do the dispute committees and the courts base their decisions on?

Ownership is based on the principle of certainty of title. This is conferred on people not by contract or by deed with the previous owner but by the registrar. Ownership of land, and transfer of ownership, is decided at the time the Registrar General changes the books.

If Mr A sells land to Mr B, Mr B becomes the owner as a matter-of-fact under law when the Registrar General changes the books. If someone is wrongly put on there, the previous owner has an issue against the Registrar General, not against the owner of the title, who is now in matter-of-fact the owner.

What is on the register is absolute proof of ownership; so, if there is a contest in court, you should be able to take the title deeds to court, say it's got my name on it - end of story. There is nothing for the court to determine, unless there has been fraud. The system is such that the courts shouldn't be involved.

If the courts do become involved, does the Land Law make it explicit as to what it bases its decision on?

The Land Law doesn't deal with what happens if there is a competing claim to title. It's an interesting issue because if you have two people with documents rightfully issued, then under law generally the person who got that issued first should win.

But with land it is a weird situation because whoever is on the title deed at the national register should win. The courts would have to weigh in and make that call, but what should be happening is the person on the register now should trump, just to give confidence to the system.

Otherwise, if I could buy land knowing that somebody could come forward in the future and my rights can be undone based on an event that happened 10 years ago, there would be no certainty for investors.

The system is designed to prevent that from happening. The courts should really, if they know the Land Law well, they should be saying the person on the title has to be recognised if this system is to work.

So, in that case, there is no recourse for the rightful owner?

If you can't rely on the register, no transaction is safe going forward. You could have a situation where party A owns the land, party B has somehow fraudulently got ownership transferred and sells it to party C.

You have two victims there; party A and party C, who has just paid $1 million for the land. Party A has lost his land, unbeknownst to him. In that situation, the system decides to protect the incoming buyer. You have to be able to trust the register, otherwise if you can pick out one fault in the history of transactions of that land, it can undo all deals.

Cambodia’s sustainability challenge

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Simon Wright
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

THE rapid pace of development in Cambodia in recent years has led to an unprecedented period of building activity.

Outside events have resulted in a temporary lull, but the country is still facing a major shortage of building stock, so a full resumption cannot be far away.

The slow period is in some ways opportune, giving architects and urban planners a chance to reflect on where the recent spate of building has taken the country. They need to ask themselves if it is heading in the right direction. If they are honest with themselves, they will conclude that it is not.

Too few of the people who have been given the opportunity to shape Cambodia's built future are taking seriously the responsibility that goes with it. Nowhere is this responsibility more needed than in the area of sustainable building and design.

Whether it is a shophouse in Pochentong or a resort project on one of Cambodia's islands, ill-conceived and badly-designed projects can produce negative environmental effects now and for the future.

Short-term thinking

In Cambodia today, the emerging middle class is rapidly adopting Western consumption patterns, swaying popular ideals of good design and encouraging developers to think in terms of short-term reward at the expense of long-term sustainability.

They are racing to build monuments to progress with little regard for sustainability and end use, as they try to keep costs down in a market where demand, and hence the return on investment, is uncertain.

This quick-turnover, high-profit mentality still stands as a roadblock to the implementation of strategies for sustainability in Cambodia.

" Contrary to popular opinion, going green doesn't have to mean going broke. "

But, contrary to popular opinion, going green doesn't have to mean going broke.

In developing economies, combining traditional architecture with appropriate technology is the soundest platform for sustainable development. Unfortunately, the term "appropriate technology" carries with it the stigma of high capital cost.

This is a dangerous misconception, as it is a gross oversimplification to say, as people so often do, that a sustainable design will add 10 to 15 percent to the cost of development.

This logic comes from addition thinking, whereby developers ask how much it will cost to modify a designed office building, house or school to include, for example, convection-powered ventilation. Addition thinking is entirely the wrong approach. Sustainable design needs to be based on a clear briefed concept and a value system dictated by the client.

Committing to sustainable design at the very earliest project stage is fundamental to the achievement of a successful sustainable building.

Design considerations such as building orientation, materials, insulation, ventilation and wastewater management all affect the building's sustainability and should be factored into the design prior to consideration of "add-on" energy efficiency and energy generating technologies.

Doing so significantly increases the economic viability of a sustainable project. But because planning procedures remain underdeveloped and underrated in Cambodia's relatively young design environment, the perceived time/cost component of substantial pre-project planning counts against this approach.

Cambodia has a unique opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the Western world as it develops. This requires that serious-minded planners, architects and designers challenge the prevalent short-termist approach to development and champion innovation to help communities live not only sustainably, but also to a higher standard.

This also needs to be supported at the national level through effective regulation and enforcement.

Those responsible for building Cambodia's future have an extraordinary opportunity to use sustainable building techniques to change the way we live for the better and improve the prospects of the generations that are going to follow.


Simon Wright is managing director of design and architecture consultancy Artitech. Should you wish to contact Simon, please send an email to

Bank lending limits irk developers

Even without the NBC guidelines, there is no guarantee banks will be open to property loans.

The maximum percentage of their loan portfolios that banks should extend to the property sector, according to National Bank of Cambodia guidelines

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Cambodia's property developers are calling on the central bank to relax guidelines limiting the proportion of their total lending commercial banks can extend to the property sector

CAMBODIAN developers are calling on the central bank to ease restrictions on bank lending to the property sector.

Guidelines from the National Bank of Cambodia issued in May limit loans to the property sector to 15 percent of banks' total loan portfolios.

Some developers are asking for the threshold in the guidelines to be boosted to as much as 50 percent of banks' total loan portfolios. They say freeing up lending will enable them to push ahead with development at a time when construction costs are plummeting as demand for building materials dries up.

"A 15 percent limit is too small for developers to run their business," said Kong Vansophy, general manager of the Dream Town development in Phnom Penh.

"For me, I think at least 45 percent or 50 percent is needed for developers to push ahead on real estate projects."

He said the current loan threshold meant banks could lend enough for developers to buy land, but not to build on that land.

" I think at least 45% or 50% is needed for developers to push ahead. "

"I think if developers want to invest in real estate they must have access to financing equivalent to 50 percent of their own budget," Vansophy said.

Too severe

Chhean Dara, project manager at the Happiness City development, also in Phnom Penh, said the central bank was right to keep a close eye on the situation, but thought a 15 percent cap was too severe.

"I want them [the NBC] to increase loans to the property sector to between 30 percent and 40 percent of bank portfolios to assist developers," he said.

He added that banks should manage their own risk rather than have it controlled by the central bank. "I think banks want to protect developers who have taken loans to buy land but can't sell units to raise money for development," he said.

"If they cannot raise money to finish their developments and sell the units, they will not be able to return money to the bank on time, or they won't have the money to pay back."

Tal Nay Im, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia, defended the policy and said the guidelines would not be changed, at least not while the effects of the global financial crisis continued to be felt.

"They [developers] can complain all they like," she said. "We only want to protect banks from those developers who want to cheat Cambodian people."

The guidelines, however, while not backed by penalities or law, meaning banks are in principle able to boost their lending to the real estate sector.

But Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal, said the guidelines weren't the only factor determining whether banks had an appetite to lend for property projects.

"While the 15 percent is a guideline, the reality is that if the central bank wants you to do something, you are generally going to do it," he said.

"[But] even without the 15 percent guideline, I'm not sure that banks would be lending much for property at the moment given how uncertain the property market is."

Representatives of ACLEDA Bank, Canadia Bank, Advanced Bank of Asia and Cambodia Asia Bank spoken to by Prime Location all said they would follow the bank's guidelines. The threshold was up to the central bank, they said, but all refused to discuss the issue further.

Construction costs in Cambodia are traditionally met through deposits from buyers, rather than bank financing. However, property sales have dried up in Cambodia in recent months, due largely to uncertainties over the political relationship with Thailand and a lack of confidence in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Kong Vansophy said there were few people looking to buy land or housing. "I see only sellers announcing they want to sell land in a hurry," he said.

Lon Sinnara, deputy director of Cambodia Estate Agent, said if the restrictions continued the real estate sector would "go down fast".

Auto importers feel the pain as global crisis cuts sales

A Ford dealership in Phnom Penh. Ford has fared better than other companies in Cambodia, yet has seen sales slip 10 percent.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

With global automobile sales in freefall, local dealers are expecting the worst as some importers predict a drop of more than 40 percent over two years

AMID tumbling real estate values and growing concern over the local implications of the global economic slowdown, Cambodia's auto sales are expected to drop as much as 40 percent over the next two years, economists and auto distributors say.

"We predict car demand in Cambodia will drop by as much as 40 percent within the next two years," said Kong Nuon, president of Toyota distributor TTHK Co Ltd on Sunday.

The declines in local sales come as the global market plummets with Toyota forecast it first reported loss Monday and US auto giants on the brink of bankruptcy.

"Unpopular models may face higher declines," he said, adding that the previously booming real estate market had fuelled an increase in consumer spending on automobiles.

Kong Nuon estimated that demand for new car models in Cambodia was about 2,800 per year on average, with an additional 20,000 second-hand cars changing owners annually.

Toyota remains the Kingdom's most popular import maker, with up to 70 percent market share, he said.

"In past years, six importers brought in an estimated 300 Toyota models each per year," Kong Nuon said, adding that TTHK Co inked an agreement with the Toyota Motor Corp last week to become the exclusive distributor of Toyotas in Cambodia.

" With the global crisis ... It is impossible for auto sales to increase next year. "

"From now on, we have exclusive rights to distribute Toyotas. We have submitted documents to register with the Commerce Ministry to help curb any further imports of Toyotas by other importers," Kong Nuon said.

But the dire state of international markets and a local economy marked by rising commodity prices and shrinking real estate and construction sectors have stripped Toyota of up to 40 percent of annual sales over last year.

The sales slowdown could have indirect implications for Cambodia's auto industry as importers face cutbacks.

TTHK currently employs 88 people and has no immediate plans for layoffs, but the company has been forced to cut expenses by 10 percent, Kong Nuon said.

Ford still strong

But Ngorn Saing, deputy general manager of RM Asia, a Ford distributor and Cambodia's second-largest automobile importer, said Monday its sales could see a rise of up to 10 percent next year.

"Our customers are mostly businesspeople rather than those who have made profits on real estate," he said.

Sales of Ford models this year have dropped just 10 percent over last year, Ngorn Saing said.

Kang Chandararot, president of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, told the Post Monday that a drop over the next two years was likely because of its traditional link to the property sector.

"With the global crisis and a recession in Cambodia's real estate market, it is impossible for auto sales to increase next year," he said, adding that it could take until 2010 for a recovery.

CamboFest hopes to inspire Cambodian filmmakers

Photo Supplied
Audience members view one of the film entrants at CamboFest 2007.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cornelius Rahn
Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Film festival brings independent international and Cambodian movie makers to Siem Reap in the hope of one day creating a viable film industry

IN a country where the film industry used to be embodied in the person of the King, the idea of rebuilding the culture of cinema from the bottom up may seem just a bit out of place. But that is exactly what CamboFest organiser Jason Rosette is trying to pull off.

The second CamboFest festival, which Rosette calls "definitely a grass-roots, low-budget affair", will offer lovers of independent film a selection of more than 60 films from around the world.

In proper indie fashion, admission to the event - to be held in Siem Reap this weekend - will be free in order to encourage Cambodian viewers.Trailers and short film clips from the festival will also be broadcast on CamboTube, a "YouTube-style" website set up by Rosette's media production group Camerado.

Promoting free initiative

Rosette got the idea to start a private-sector movie festival with a global outlook in 2006 during a globalisation course at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

" I hope people get a kick out of the festival and ...emerging cambodian filmmakers check it out. "

"At that time, there was no other actual movie festival here," he said. "You had a lot of festivals that were actually just extensions of donor or organisational programs."

Rosette said he chose Cambodia to set up the festival because the government's restrictions on media were not as strict as in other countries in the region.

In Vietnam, it would be difficult to have DVDs mailed without interference from the government, Rosette said. Thailand was under military rule at the time, so Cambodia promised to be the friendliest environment for a nascent independent film festival.

With a budget of under US$10,000, CamboFest relies on a loose network of volunteers. For instance, the film award jury consists of a varied group - "from the BBC, Digipost, Singapore, Malaysia and a bunch of Khmer guys".

"Many of my Khmer assistants [initially] did not know what a movie festival was," he said. "Basically, I told them: ‘It's like a party with movies, and you show different movies from around the world'."

But Rosette said it is difficult for Camerado, which is a private business, to compete with non-profit organisations that receive funding from outside and have "a thousand times our budget". Despite this disadvantage, he said he is convinced that more private initiative and less patronage is the way forward in Cambodia.

Rosette, who is also a filmmaker, said he wants to help create a viable movie industry in Cambodia by encouraging local talent. "Emerging filmmakers may look and say: ‘Wow, look at what filmmakers in Cuba or in Brazil are doing!' Maybe that will expand their technical ability or give them different ideas.

"But attracting Cambodian talent is not easy, he admitted. Even though CamboFest aims to be an international festival, Cambodia's five contributions are less than Rosette said he was hoping for.

"It's not like you can just hang up a sign [asking for film contributions] in a film society like you would in the West," he said.

Schools and NGOs training young filmmakers tend to "capture" their students and discourage them from participating in events organised by other groups, Rosette added.

Screening rights row

The formality of the submission process is another obstacle, as Rosette emphasised the need for filmmakers to secure 100 percent of the films' screening rights. Requesting written statements that they hold the copyright to their work may discourage local filmmakers. "It's an alien concept to them - it scares them away," Rosette said.

But securing public performance rights is necessary "to get distributors licensing to [Cambodia]," he said. "[The movie industry] does not really need Cambodia. If they see Cambodia is not diligent about [screening rights], they won't license, they won't be in our house.

"He estimated that even with a conscientious screening rights policy and a more systematic outreach, it could take five to 10 years to fully establish the festival. "Maybe it turns out that the private sector grass-roots model cannot survive the competition from nonprofit organisations."

Still, Rosette has high hopes for the lo-fi concept behind CamboFest. "Many festivals, like South-by-Southwest or Sundance, they started very indie," he said. "Most importantly, it should be fun. I hope people get a kick out of the festival, and I hope a lot of emerging Cambodian filmmakers check it out. " CamboFest will be held from Friday to Monday.

Cambodia, Lebanon and the Agony of Transitional Justice

DOCUMENTED BUT NOT RESOLVED – NYT photographer Dith Pran in New York in this undated photo circa 1994. The Cambodian born Dith was the subject of the book and film "The Killing Fields." What is missing in both Cambodia and Lebanon are official efforts to advance truth, reconciliation and collective healing of their pasts. (IRP photo via Newscom)

By HRACH GREGORIAN (Special to the Middle East Times)
Published: December 24, 2008

Two countries suffered unspeakable horrors in the last quarter of the 20th century. While separated by substantial cultural, historical and physical space, Cambodia and Lebanon exhibit uncanny resemblances in the way issues of justice have come to be handled in the aftermath of violent conflict.

From 1975 to 1979 an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died as a result of the policies of the Khmer Rouge regime. Those responsible at the senior most levels are dying off and few will be brought to justice before they meet their maker.

In 2003, almost a quarter century after the heinous acts were committed, the U.N. General Assembly established the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to finally address the issue of genocide. The Extraordinary Chambers are a hybrid of the U.N. and Cambodian systems of justice.

The hybrid approach has been singularly ineffective in achieving the mission that was set out for it. Some are guardedly optimistic that after many false starts the Extraordinary Chambers are now gaining some traction. A fundamental structural problem renders such optimism open to question. The Chambers are grounded in a corrupt and inefficient national judicial system controlled by a government that has limited political will to address the past.

Cambodian "democracy" is a sham, a façade to mollify an international community all too willing to turn a blind eye, this is particularly true of international financial institutions, which this year exceeded even Cambodian expectations in their largess.

Cambodia has a viable constitution and political institutions appear to operate normally, but scratch the surface and quickly are revealed a legislature and judiciary domination by the executive. There is virtually no accountability to the people. While there is a lively press in Phnom Penh, most Cambodians live in the countryside, cannot read or afford to buy newspapers, and thus rely on radio, which is state-controlled. What is left of a political opposition is harassed or worse eliminated, reportedly by the police and the armed forces.

The Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia's professional class, leaving in the wreckage a judicial system that by all measures is incompetent. Human rights commissions have been established, but they are not independent and they have largely failed to promote or protect the human rights treaties to which Cambodia is a signatory. Government created NGOs muddy the waters and independent voices are muffled by increasingly restrictive legislation.

Between 1975 and 1990 a succession of conflicts were fought in Lebanon. Widespread violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses were witnessed throughout this period. The statistics from the civil war era are startling, given the relatively small size of the Lebanese population: 3,925,502 (2007 est.) 145,000 killed, 185,000 wounded, 17,000 missing, 2,000 murdered after being raped, approximately 800,000 forcibly displaced. As in the case of Cambodia, eager to return to some semblance of normalcy the Lebanese parliament granted a general amnesty in 1991 that virtually closed the books on the crimes of the previous period.

What happened in Lebanon's transition from war to peace has been well documented. As in the case of Cambodia, political expediency trumped justice and true closure for victims and their families.

As Lebanese civil rights activist Nizar Saghieh has noted, rather than advancing justice and rule of law, Lebanon's leaders were more interested in "consolidating their position as superior to the rest of the population … the victim was repeatedly marginalized and responsibilities for the violence were overlooked…"

And for all its high minded rhetoric about genocide, human rights and the responsibility to protect, the international community had little to say about the fate of the Lebanese victims of the 15-year conflict.

So what do these two societies have in common in addition to suffering and a lack of closure?
The common denominator in these cases, as in other like cases, is fear. Fear of what unearthing the past will mean for peace and stability; fear of culpability, particularly by individuals currently occupying and profiting from positions of power; and fear of the psychological and financial costs of truly comprehensive judicial remedies.

What is missing too is official efforts to advance truth, reconciliation and collective healing, as has been tried in South Africa, Argentina, and East Timor, to name a few. Fear causes a culture of silence, a culture of corruption, a culture of impunity, and an uneasy culture of amnesia.

Where such fear predominates, the expropriation of people's land, torture, and killings, frequently continue to go unpunished, whether such acts are committed by home-grown autocrats or by powerful interests in neighboring countries. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable are forced to suffer in silence.

Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia

Far Eastern Economic Review

Reviewed by Stephen J. Morris

Posted December 5, 2008

Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the united nations in Cambodiaby Benny Widyono

Rowman and Littlefield,356 pages, $29.95

In the sad history of 20th century Cambodia, a bright light of hope for its long suffering people came from the peace plan, adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1990, and signed by the warring Cambodian parties in Paris in October 1991. That plan authorized the holding of free elections in a “politically neutral environment,” under the supervision of U.N. peacekeepers and a United Nations Temporary Administration in Cambodia. The primary purpose of the Agreement was to end the war between competing Cambodian factions, two of which were rival communist organizations, and two of which were noncommunist. The second purpose of the plan was to give the Cambodian people the chance to determine their own future in a nonviolent way, by creating a culture of tolerance and social pluralism, and a set of liberal democratic political institutions.

It is now clear that while armed conflict eventually ended in 1999, it was not because of the Paris Agreement that had been applied in 1992-93. It is also clear that the will of the Cambodian people, as expressed in the victory of the noncommunists in the elections of 1993, was ignored. The election’s loser—the communist Cambodian People’s Party—bullied its way into retaining real power with threats of massive violence. Prince Norodom Sihanouk and the force-averse U.N. “peacekeepers” caved in to Hun Sen’s demand for an ostensible but in fact bogus “coalition” with the election’s winners. Consequently, Cambodia did not then and does not now have a government freely chosen by its people.

Why this U.N. failure was allowed to happen has never been systematically analyzed in a sober and objective way. However, the appearance of a memoir by Indonesian-born U.N. diplomat Benny Widyono is welcome. Mr. Widyono’s book mostly recalls his personal experiences as the senior UNTAC official in Siem Reap province during the election preparations, campaign and balloting of 1992-93, and as the U.N. secretary general’s personal representative in Cambodia from 1993-97.

For the already well informed and objective scholar, Mr. Widyono’s account has several things to recommend it. He ably describes the profound failings of the UNTAC administration as he witnessed them at the local level. UNTAC was expected, by the terms of the Paris Agreement, to exercise control over the key ministries of the existing administration of Cambodia. But Mr. Widyono shows how hopelessly understaffed UNTAC was for the designated task. It was also ill equipped linguistically, with most of the few Khmer speakers assigned to the Information Division. The UNTAC leadership itself was in disarray at the beginning of the operation. UNTAC was unable to ensure that the CPP-controlled government did not finance the CPP’s political campaign, and UNTAC would not stop partisan violence during the elections.

But while informed scholars can glean many interesting details of the failings of UNTAC from Mr. Widyono’s account, it is defective as an overall objective analysis for either scholars or the broader public.

First, Mr. Widyono clearly has preferences between the various contenders for political power. He exposes the many political and personal flaws in the leader of the royalist funcinpec party, Prince Ranariddh: his vacillation, his weakness and his corruption. The royalist funcinpec party is treated with derision. Most of Mr. Widyono’s charges against the royalists, especially Ranariddh, have long been known to astute observers of Cambodia.

At the same time, Mr. Widyono applies different standards in his treatment of the CPP and its government structure, the State of Cambodia. Though not uncritical of the CPP, the author gives CPP strongman Hun Sen and his regime a fairly gentle evaluation.

For instance, Mr. Widyono ignores evidence of the Hun Sen regime’s direct involvement in drug trafficking, human trafficking and forest defoliation. In a cover story entitled “Medellin on the Mekong?,” which appeared in the REVIEW in 1995, former review and Washington Post journalist Nate Thayer explained the close link between political figures and criminal syndicates in Cambodia. Mr. Widyono quotes the review often, but not for this revealing analysis.

Moreover, he accurately describes the notorious head of the National Police, Hok Lundi, as “one of the most feared men in Cambodia,” but the details are not spelled out. Nowhere in the book does Mr. Widyono hold Lundi (who died in a helicopter crash last month) responsible for the torture and murder of the political opposition, or for his continuing involvement in human trafficking.

Or consider Mr. Widyono’s coverage of the May 1997 grenade attack on a peaceful political rally by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, which killed 19 people and wounded 150. The author suggests that the culprits for this atrocity were not obvious; he tries to muddy the evidential waters by claiming that different parties had been blamed. Yet despite Mr. Widyono’s agnosticism, numerous analyses by journalists since that event have provided compelling evidence that the Hun Sen regime was directly involved in the atrocity. Hun Sen is always portrayed as a tough and wily politician, but not as a ruthless dictator.

At the beginning of the book, Mr. Widyono writes that the whole peace process was flawed because the Khmer Rouge was part of it. But one is compelled to ask how there could have been a peace process without one of the main belligerents? Mr. Widyono’s illogical view was precisely the political position of the Hun Sen regime and its foreign supporters up until the moment it agreed to sign the Paris Peace Agreements. No wonder then that when Mr. Widyono’s time was up as U.N. representative in Cambodia in May 1997, Hun Sen begged the U.N. secretariat to allow him to stay on.

The informed observer could have guessed where Mr. Widyono’s sympathies lay from his choice of Ben Kiernan to write his foreword. Mr. Kiernan was a devoted supporter of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge from 1975-77 who subsequently became a propagandist for the Heng Samrin-Hun Sen led faction of Khmer Rouge’s defectors, now known as the CPP. Unfortunately, what could have been a shorter and less controversial memoir of events, has extended itself unnecessarily into a work of advocacy for the current dictatorship that rules Cambodia. But even as a piece of advocacy it has its value, for it gives us insight into the thinking of some U.N. bureaucrats who performed so poorly. And by exposing his own prejudices in favor of the CPP dictatorship, Mr. Widyono inadvertently illuminates one reason why the 1991 Paris Agreements failed to bring peace or democracy to Cambodia.

Stephen Morris is a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C., and author of Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia (Stanford University Press, 1999).

Reflect on the good and positive

Pacific Daily News

December 24, 2008

If you didn't pay attention to the findings published in the British Medical Journal earlier this month -- noted in my column last week -- happiness is contagious; if you are connected to unhappy people, this is likely to increase your chances of being unhappy by about seven percent, on average.

Since smiling, singing and laughter tune up the positive emotions of the people near and around you, you can make this season the "most wonderful time of the year," as the song goes.

The holiday season is also a time of reflection. Every year I replay memories of the past, near and distant. I sigh at some, shake my head at some, smile at some. And I remember the wise counsel: "Learn from the past, but don't live there!"

I give thanks to all that happened, the good and the not-so-good -- from the not-so-good I learned the good. And I follow the wise counsel: "Live life rather than let life live you." Make life what I would like it to be; take ownership of my actions rather than blame or praise karma.

I dust off writings by Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) who teaches that we can live "sanely, happily, intelligently," even in a world of conflicts inside ourselves and a world of frictions outside, at work, in the community, or in the world, by living the present "in goodness."

Briefly, Krishnamurti sees goodness as unrelated to what's bad or evil. He defines "good" as that which is holy, related to God and to the highest principles. The holy doesn't preach love and practice hatred, and God and the highest principles do not preach killing, stealing and smearing someone's good name, he says.

He teaches: To live in goodness we must end the "me" that exists in our relationships, actions, thinking and way of life, by transforming our mind through meditation; and instill compassion, love and energy to transcend pettiness, narrowness and shallowness in life.

So, don't wait for good karma. We must be responsible and take possession of ourselves, thoughts and actions.

Like the years before, as the old year nears the end and the new one shows its face, I go over my "One-day-at-a-time Therapy" booklet, purchased after I left my native land, Cambodia, the only land I knew, for college in America. It's dog-eared now, and I have five grandchildren. But I still read and reflect on the meaning of the words.

"Sing, hum, whistle," the booklet reads, "This moment is the only moment you have. Respect its possibilities." I know it by heart.

If my former students in my University of Guam politics classes didn't fall asleep under the island tropical breeze, they should recall my lecture about the importance of "this moment," which is now, not yesterday or tomorrow; that when it passes it does not return with its moment's particulars that provide a turning point to change one's life. Seize the moment as the window of opportunities presents, I lectured, take steps, cross the threshold, the imaginary demarcation line. After the crossing, all should become easier and clearer. A similar moment may appear in the future, but not with the same particulars.

I wonder how many understood and if any had actually crossed any threshold.

Learning to think is hard as abstract ideas are difficult to manipulate. I remember my column in 2006 on New York Times award-winner Thomas Friedman's "Learning to Keep Learning," in which he appealed to "the constant ability to learn how to learn" as the "only security you have."

Now in 2008, a Cambodian reader expressed a frustration, common worldwide, that it takes too long for learning to show what it can cause to be accomplished. Yet, the same reader reminded me of what I lectured at the Cambodian border two decades ago: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." Touché!

The Chinese say, "A teacher opens the door, but you must enter by yourself."

Learning as a process requires unlearning as well as relearning the many things as man journeys through life. French-born educator Jacques Barzun says it best: "In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for 20 years."

The human light-bulb will pop. When it lights up it shines. In this high-tech era, learning is made simple. Thinking about what one learned is not so easy.

Last year, Time magazine had a cover story about "the savage and the splendid" that coexist in the same person: "Morality and empathy are writ deep in our genes. Alas, so are savagery and bloodlust."

As the teacher of nonviolence, Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us." All the world's religions teach man to ameliorate the good and avoid the bad. And men and women everywhere can learn from religious teachings of compassion and love.

As Time wrote, the "overwhelming majority" of people "don't run the moral rails," although some "do come untracked."

As we come to the end of the year, reflections on the good and the positive and formulating resolutions for the New Year 2009 are in order.

May Christmas Day bring you and your families happiness and joy!

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political
science for 13 years. Write him at

MEP Pannella Tours S.E. Asia

UNPO (Unrepresented Nation and People Organization)

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Human Rights in South East Asia clasp MEP Pannella.

Over the Christmas recess, MEP Pannella visits Cambodia, Vietnam and India to highlight the human rights situation of minorities in the region.

Below is an article published by


After the meeting of the General Council of the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, held in Brussels last week [December 2008], Marco Pannella, member of the European Parliament and President of the NRP Senate, left today [19 December 2008] for an official mission to Cambodia, Vietnam and India with radical MPS elected in Italy’s Democratic Party, Marco Perduca and Matteo Mecacci.

On Saturday December 20th [2008], Pannella and Perduca will meet in Cambodia the 26 parliamentarian belonging to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which, in the last few days, have renewed their subscription to NRP for 2009. In Cambodia meetings with the Khmer Krom Community have been scheduled as well. The Khmer Krom are an indigenous population from the south of Vietnam, which in part took refuge in Cambodia. Other meetings have been planned, such as meetings with Montagnard refugees, coming from the central highlands of Vietnam, NGOs representatives and International Agencies which work in the field of Human Rights defense.

On Wednesday, December 23rd [2008] the Radical delegation will arrive in Vietnam. In Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) they will try to meet the Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, the Venerable Thich Quan Do, who has been victim of intimidations and freedom restrictions for more than 20 years and who is currently under house arrest. On December 24th and 25th [2008] the radical delegation will go to Hanoi, where official meetings with the Vietnamese Government have been requested to discuss the situation of the Montagnard, an indigenous population with a Christian majority, which have been persecuted for decades by the authorities with serious consequences for their own survival.

On Saturday, December 27th [2008], Marco Pannella and Matteo Mecacci will arrive in Dharamsala, India, where the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile is located. Here, an official meeting with Prime Minister Prof. Samdong Rimpoche has been scheduled, along with other meetings with Tibetan parliamentary authorities, representatives of student movements, activists and young Tibetans. The purpose of those meetings is the planning of an international campaign to seek the truth and the real responsibilities of the failure of the negotiations between the Tibetans authorities and the Chinese’s on the Status of Tibet in the context of the First Great World Satyagraha for peace.

Furthermore, a meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama is planned to be held during the stay in Dharamsala.

Descubren nuevas especies

Nuevas especies descubiertas en el sureste de Asia

BBC News


New species discovered in the Mekong area

The conservation group WWF has reported that a bright pink millipede and a striped rabbit are among more than a thousand new species which have been discovered along the banks of the Mekong River in south east Asia within the last ten years.

This report from Rob Norris:

The conservationists are describing the largely unexplored jungles and wetlands in the Mekong Delta as a biological treasure trove. The discoveries, made in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Burma and China, range from the world's largest huntsman spider, which has a leg span of thirty centimetres, to a wild banana with purple skin.

The Conservation Science Advisor to WWF, Mark Wright, says that between 1997 and 2007, scientists found an average of two previously undiscovered species every week:

Mark Wright: "Probably my favourite is the Dragon Millipede - it's only three centimetres long - absolutely lurid pink, and it produces cyanide to try to deter predators. I mean this is a real creature with attitude here. And then there are a few other things which I think show the way science works - one, the beautifully named Laotian Rock Rat, was discovered in a local food market, so the people who live there were very aware of this creature, but science came to it very late."

They remained unknown in the outside world for so long because political conflicts in the region kept scientists away until the 1990s.

WWF is warning that the main challenge facing the area is how to allow economic development while still maintaining environmental protection.

Rob Norris, BBC

Fake Medicines Are Invading Cambodia while the Ministry of Health Keeps Quiet - Tuesday 23.12.2008

Posted on 24 December 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 592

“Medicines are double-edged weapons. During a meeting last week, officials found that fake medicines are strongly invading Cambodia. The Ministry of Health, the parent or the administrator of this sector,] has not any significant achievements responding to the size or the spread of fake medicine trafficking, or of unqualified medicines.

“The Cambodian government created central and provincial committees to eliminate fake medicines and illegal health services in 2005. So far, by late 2008, the highest health institution has changed ministers, from Minister Nuth Sokhom to Minister Mam Bunheng, but there is no positive change in the prevention of fake medicines’ trafficking. Moreover, the fact that there is not much debate about the problem, means that it is an opportunity for fake medicines to extend their influence.

“It is reported that not much is done to curb the use and the speculation with fake medicines in the provinces, while at the central level, it is completely quiet. During more than three years, the central committee met only once in 2006, after there had been some encouragement from non-government organizations.

“How many types of fake medicines has the Ministry of Heath found? Where do those types of fake medicines come from? What are they? Was information about them was published for the public? Were warnings published in time? Or are they first waiting until the merchants have sold all medicine, only then publish something in order to make a good impression in the public? Did the central committee create strategic plans to handle this problem? If it did, were evaluations conducted? How many times was information about the results given to the Royal Government?

“The import of fake medicines into the country causes countless losses. Fake medicines do not care whether they affect ministers, parliamentarians, doctors, customs officers, police, the rich, the poor, soldiers, teachers etc… Not only the users are affected, but also those who are not users may have problems.

“Health experts said that the Cambodian Mine Action Center tries to clear mines, traffic police try to enforce traffic laws, civil society organizations try to appeal to demand the protection through the resoect of human rights…, but fake medicines are more cruel than mines and more dangerous than traffic accidents along the roads; it is a serious abuse of human rights… But no one is interested in such danger, including the expert institution – the Ministry of Health. It is not because the expert institution does not know about it, but it is suspected that it is - because benefit sharing with medicine companies - the central committee now keeps silent. [Also, because the relevant ministries did not respond.]

“Unlike the quietness of the central committee, other institutions focus on this dangerous problem. Non-government organizations and international organizations, like INTERPOL, had encouraged the central committee to be active again, but it seems it has no effect.

“Besides fake medicines, a big danger are also the many illegal clinics [clinics operating without license];tese too harm citizens’ health. Illegal clinics are not just like persons who sell drugs secretly so that police cannot see it, but these are illegal clinics with big banners along main roads in cities and in various towns. Therefore, if the Ministry of Health has the intention to check these illegal clinics, it is not difficult. But it seems that the Ministry of Health has no intention to do so. It is said that expert officials of the Ministry of Health receive thousands of dollar monthly from those illegal clinics.

“Not just illegal clinics need to pay monthly bribe-fees to officials of the Ministry of Health, even for the imports of material it is necessary to pay to official of the Ministry of Health. To sum up, officials of the Ministry of Health know the evil merchants of fake medicines and those illegal clinics like their own palm.

“It is expected that the Minister of Health, Mr. Mam Bunheng, will be strong enough to solve the two important problems mentioned above, in order for Cambodia to join the efforts to alleviate poverty together with the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

Chakraval, Vol.16, #2836, 23.12.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Amnesty Urges Cambodia To Free Alleged Killers Of Union Boss


PHNOM PENH (AFP)--Rights group Amnesty International Tuesday called on Cambodia's highest court to release two alleged killers of the country's labor leader, saying the true perpetrators remain at large.

Chea Vichea, who headed the country's largest labor union and was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand in January 2004.

The daylight murder shocked the country and was condemned by Cambodian and international rights groups as a brutal attempt to silence the opposition-linked workers' group.

Just days after the killing, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested, convicted of murder and quickly sentenced to 20 years each in prison. They will make their final appeal at the Supreme Court next week.

"Amnesty International calls on the Supreme Court to dismiss the case against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, and ensure that they are released without delay and their names cleared," the watchdog said in a statement.

The group said it "believes that the true perpetrators of the murder remain at large, while Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have spent almost five years in prison after a seriously flawed criminal investigation and a grossly unfair trial."

The pair denied any involvement in the killing and have fought their convictions. Former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who led the investigation, also has admitted that the two didn't kill Chea Vichea.

Teen Becomes First in Cambodia to Survive Bird Flu


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A 19-year old Cambodian man has survived the H5N1 bird flu virus which has killed seven other people in the poor Southeast Asian nation since 2005, a health ministry official said on Sunday.

The youth, who became infected after eating poultry, was discharged from a Phnom Penh hospital on Saturday after being treated for 10 days, Ly Sovann, deputy director of communicable disease control department, said.

"He left safe and sound," Ly Sovann told Reuters.

Cambodia began culling poultry near its capital last week, and ordered a 3-month ban on poultry being moved from the province of Kandal, 30 miles south of Phnom Penh, after tests confirmed it was hit by the deadly virus.

The young man, the eighth person in Cambodia to have contracted bird flu since its first case in 2005, fell ill on November 28 but was only confirmed as having bird flu on December 11.

Since H5N1 resurfaced in Asia in 2003 it has killed more than 200 people in a dozen countries, according to the WHO.

Experts fear the constantly mutating H5N1 virus could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person and potentially kill millions worldwide.

Cambodian Supreme Court will review trade union leader’s murder

Sok Sam Oeun (L) and Born Samnang (R) paraded by police in front of the media after their arrests. © Heng Sinith


23 December 2008

Two men convicted of the murder of trade union activist Chea Vichea in Cambodia after a seriously flawed criminal investigation and a grossly unfair trial will have their case heard by the country's Supreme Court on 31 December.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were sentenced to 20 years for Chea Vichea’s murder. However, their detention and trial were plagued with human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment and deeply flawed court proceedings that relied on unfounded and inadmissible evidence.

"The Cambodian Supreme Court must dismiss the case against both men and ensure that they are released." said Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher Brittis Edman.

The organisation has long argued that the true perpetrators of the murder remain at large. The Free Trade Union (FTU), of which Chea Vichea was President, has also repeatedly called for the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun had alibis for the time of the shooting on 22 January 2004. Instead of conducting a thorough, impartial investigation, police officers threatened and detained people who would provide these alibis, and intimidated other witnesses.

Born Samnang repeatedly stated that police beat, coerced and bribed him into making a confession. Despite this, the Municipal Court accepted the confession as a central piece of evidence on the basis of which both men were convicted.

On 1 August 2005, the Municipal Court sentenced them both to 20 years’ imprisonment for murder. On 6 April 2007, the Appeal Court upheld the decision, despite the prosecutor’s acknowledgment there was insufficient evidence.

Amnesty International has repeated its calls to the Cambodian authorities to conduct an impartial and effective investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea so that those responsible for it are brought to justice.

The organisation has also urged the authorities to initiate a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the conduct of the case - including allegations of torture or other ill-treatment by police during the initial interrogation of the two men, intimidation of witnesses and political interference with the judicial process.

Chea Vichea was murdered on 22 January 2004 after receiving a series of death threats. He was shot dead in an assassination-style killing at a news stand in central Phnom Penh. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested shortly afterwards on suspicion of his murder.

Since Chea Vichea’s death another two FTU activists have been killed in Phnom Penh. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, FTU President at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered. Thach Saveth was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his murder in a one-hour trial described by observers as grossly unfair.

On 24 February 2007, Hy Vuthy, FTU President at the Suntex factory, was shot dead. No one has been brought to justice for this killing, and by September 2008, a Phnom Penh court official told media that the investigation had been closed for lack of evidence.

Boy From Cambodia To Las Vegas For Heart Surgery

Child Heart

(NBC) -- A little boy named 'Lucky' is living up to his name after traveling from Cambodia to Las Vegas to have his broken heart fixed.Dr. Michael Ciccolo performed the operation at Sunrise Children's Hospital.

"The child has a hole between the lower pumping chambers. It's important to fix significant forms of heart disease, because if you don't they will not have a normal life expectancy," he explained.

The baby's name means "Lucky" in English. His family thinks it's fitting that he had the procedure in Las Vegas. They couldn't afford to pay for the surgery, so it was arranged through a charitable organization called Hearts Without Boundaries.

The hospital and the doctor donated their services as part of this international effort. "It's quite a gift, not only to the patient, but to the patient's family. So it makes us feel very proud of the fact that we're able to do this here," said Dr. Ciccolo.

Word of the surgery's success was welcome news in Cambodia and Lucky's progress has been excellent. He should lead a normal life with no additional surgeries.


Cambodia, Malaysia to sign anti-human trafficking MoU

People's Daily Online
December 23, 2008

Cambodia and Malaysia will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for anti-human trafficking cooperation, a Cambodian governmental official said here on Tuesday.

"We are preparing the draft MoU for anti-human trafficking cooperation between the Cambodian an Malaysian governments and it will be inked soon," Ith Rady, secretary of state for the Justice Ministry, said at a seminar on investigation skills against human-trafficking crime.

The issue of human trafficking is one of the primary concerns of the country and the Cambodian government has the goodwill to combat human-trafficking crime in conjunction with other countries, he said.

The criminals have adopted many new ways to transport and exploit the victims and human-trafficking acts have seriously affected the social order and human dignity, he said.

"It is a serious crime and also a border-crossing crime," he added.

Cambodia already inked MoUs for anti-human trafficking cooperation with two regional countries, Vietnam and Thailand.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian government established a working groupto cope with the crime, which is headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng.

Source: Xinhua

Land Suit Renewed Against Minister’s Sister

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
23 December 2008

A group of Jarai villagers in Ratanakkiri province has filed a second suit against the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, alleging her company failed to follow a court order to stop clearing disputed land.

Fifteen representatives of Pate commune, O’Yadao district, filed suit “after their crops and graves were damaged due to land clearance by Mrs. Keat Kolney’s company,” said Sek Sovanna, a lawyer for the Community Legal Education Center, which is representing the villagers.

The second suit follows a January 2007 court action by villagers of Pate’s Kong Yu village, who accused Keat Kolney’s company of defrauding them of 450 hectares of land, an allegation Keat Kolney has denied. However, Keat Kolney did tell the courts in March 2007 she would suspend development of the land.

In the newest complaint, villagers told the courts that on Oct. 23, workers for Keat Kolney resumed clearance on the disputed land and continued to do so despite the orders of a provincial court judge on Oct. 28.

On Monday, Keat Kolney’s lawyer, Chhe Vibol, denied the allegation.

“Following the suit in 2007, my client has never cleared that land,” he said, declining to comment further.

Judge Thor Saron, who issued the order for the company to cease clearance, declined comment Monday.

Ros Saram, a Ratanakkiri court deputy prosecutor, confirmed receipt of the newest complaint.

Tribunal Readies for Next Year: Official

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
23 December 2008

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has renewed legal procedures over funds, compensation, complaints, and more, as the courts move toward their first trial next year, a top official said Monday.

“The tribunal needs $5.4 million from March to the end of 2009 for the Cambodian side, but for the UN side, we can’t say how much,” said Hem Krainh Tony, acting administration director for the courts, as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “We know it’s greater.”

“For compensation in some international courts, they have specific funds…but in Cambodia, there is just cooperative compensation,” he said, adding that Cambodia has the only court in which the victim can act as civil party and prosecutor.

The tribunal will also likely be able to start its first trial, of jailed Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch, in March 2009, he said.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath, who also joined “Hello VOA” Monday, said the courts’ Victims Unit has so far received more than 2,000 complaints.

“No matter whether you in Cambodia or anywhere in the world, you can file a complaint,” he said.

Cambodian Gambling Remains a Concern

By Taing Sarada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
23 December 2008

Civic groups in Cambodia working in social development are urging the authorities to immediately close gambling facilities, which are taking away the daily incomes of simple people and high-ranking officials alike.

Seng Theary, executive director of the Center for Social Development, called gambling a social virus that leads to theft, domestic violence and increased poverty.

“I suggest the authorities close down the gambling sites, as we have already seen that gambling is like a dangerous disease, in the family and in society,” she said.

Cambodia has an estimated 30 to 50 large casinos and up to 100 smaller sites, most of them set up in hotels, night clubs, bars and discos in Phnom Penh. These operate along with sports gambling facilities, kickboxing matches and lotteries.

Cambodia loses millions of dollars a year to gambling, while people spend time betting instead of working and overall production and the economy suffers, said Son Chhay, parliamentarian for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

“It is such a waste of time,” he said. “Our country is an impoverished country, so we need labor to produce.”

Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naroth said sports betting was permitted, but there is only one casino in Phnom Penh, Naga, which doesn’t allow Cambodians inside.

“Besides Naga casino, there are only slot machines in the hotels,” he said. “These are only electronic machines.”

Hun Sen has meanwhile ordered a crackdown on slot machines and a ban on gambling by Cambodians, an order local authorities are following.

However, Son Chhay urged the closing of all gambling establishments, including sports betting.

Foreign companies are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from Cambodia, he said, adding that the companies bribe high-ranking police and military officials to protect their businesses.

Jesus and the lotus flower

Photo by: Philong Sovan
Ly Sovanna and his family.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Poree
Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Once a source of suffering and alienation, Ly Sovanna's Catholicism now provides a firm foundation for honouring his convictions and appreciating his Buddhist heritage

Ly Sovanna is a soft-spoken family man. He was baptised three years ago and chose the Christian name Jean-Baptiste.

"During my three years of study in catechism, I liked him because he was living [in the same way] as the poor. He was very humble and always on the way of God," he said, referring to Saint John the Baptist.

This year, Ly Sovanna's Christmas celebration will reflect the uncomplicated nature of his faith: "No big celebration, just something simple".

At his Phnom Penh home, Ly Sovanna celebrates by putting up two small Christmas trees with a nativity scene he built himself from simple materials.

Ly Sovanna says that when he did not have small figures to place in his homemade stable, he decided to use sculptures of the holy family he purchased in Vietnam.

In the opposite corner of the room stands his father-in-law's Buddha statute. In this family, Catholics and Buddhists live together and celebrate together.

A family affair

On Christmas Eve, three families will be seathed around Ly Sovanna's family table: Ly Sovanna with his wife and son, his parents-in-law and his brother-in-law's family. The dinner menu will feature a special Khmer soup. After dinner, the young children - his son and his niece - will receive presents. As usual, the adults will wait for the Khmer New Year to get their gifts.

"The gift is a symbol. It allows us to think about the love we share and the love we receive. The main thing is not the gift but the heart," Ly Sovanna said.

That's why during the Advent season (four weeks before Christmas), the Catholic community, of which Ly Sovanna is a member, organises donations for the poor, the sick and the incarcerated.

The Christmas season is important for Ly Sovanna, as it gives him the opportunity to think intensely about his religion, which he describes as "the relation between God and humans, who have to be patient and aware of their path, the faith, the love of God, the return of the Christ someday, the relations inside the community..."

Christmas Mass
The Christmas Mass, where several hundred faithful will meet at Phnom Penh's Boeung Tompoung church, will be the highlight of the festive season for both Ly Sovanna and his wife.

While the celebration will be a bit different from the one the family used to attend in their beloved Kampong Thom province, where Ly Sovanna used to play Joseph in the church play and where the family played traditional Khmer games and sang Christmas songs, the spirit will remain the same.

" [the gift] allows us to think about the love we share. the main thing is not the gift but the heart. "

Ly Sovanna does not mind the fact that many non-Christian people celebrate Christmas, nor the increasing commercialism associated with the season.

"[Christmas] is good for joy and wishing friendship. We have to be open. But we all have to be careful with the materialism and to limit it.

And I disagree with the students asking to celebrate [Christmas] during class. They can give presents after school [or] during their free time.

It is not good to use [Christmas] as a pretext to stop working at school. But it is great to see people love each other.

"This kindness is something Ly Sovanna says he developed when he suffered the contempt of villagers while living in the province. They called him "the Jesus" and said he was not Khmer because he abandoned Buddhism and his Cambodian culture.

"My father was a monk, and he taught the monks at the pagoda. He had a very close and respectful relationship with his brother, who was converted to Catholicism before Pol Pot's regime. Before my father died, he advised me to join my uncle's family. I have never forgotten my culture. I still respect the monks. I still respect my family. My heart and my blood are Cambodian," Ly Sovanna said.

As if to prove the point, Ly Sovanna brings out a wooden statue of the virgin Mary with her child Jesus. She wears a sarong, a farmer's shirt and a krama. And they both stand on a lotus flower.