Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Dengue fever casualties down nationwide: ministry

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A young dengue patient awaits treatment at Kantha Bopha hospital in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara and Sam Rith
Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The head of the Health Ministry's anti-dengue fever program credits better education and treatment for the decline

A HEALTH Ministry official announced Monday a steep decline in the number of infections and deaths from dengue fever countrywide this year.

Ngan Chantha, director of the ministry's anti-dengue fever program, said 65 people have died from the disease so far this year, compared with 407 deaths in 2007.

He said 9,300 people contracted the disease in 2008, down from 39,851 cases last year.

Dengue fever is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes that causes severe fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and skin rash.

Ngan Chantha credited greater funding and educational programs for the drop in infection rates and deaths.

"We have a preventative program in place to check the spread of dengue fever," he told the Post Monday, adding that the government has also received support from the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and USAID.

Ngan Chantha said provinces hardest hit by dengue include Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Kandal and Siem Reap, but that the disease finds a strong foothold in areas suffering from poor sanitation.

However, Ngan Chantha identified a troubling trend in the spread of the disease.

"Now, it is not only the children who get infected. It is also older men between 20 and 50," he said, adding that the ministry did not have data on infection rates among adults but that it would conduct studies in the future.

Srey Acha, director of the Me Sang district referral hospital in Prey Veng province, said the hospital treated no cases of dengue fever so far this year.

"People in my district now have a greater understanding about how to prevent infection," he told the Post Monday.

70 pc of Soviet-era debt will be forgiven, says CPP lawmaker

FOREIGN DEBT
The Cambodian government has amassed US$2.37 billion in foreign debt since the 1970s. A whopping 63 percent of this is owed to Russia due to loans in the 1980s when the Soviet Union was a major benefactor to Cambodia.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Tuesday, 30 December 2008

After previous denials from the Russian govt, a Cambodian lawmaker says most of the US$1.5 billion Cold War debt will be scratched

A SENIOR Cambodian People's Party lawmaker insisted Monday that Russia will cancel 70 percent of debt it is owed by Cambodia, potentially reducing to a third what the country owes to foreign nations.

Lawmakers across party lines also pressed the government to reduce foreign debt and focus on obtaining aid with no strings attached.

According to Ministry of Economy and Finance figures, Cambodia owes more than US$2 billion to foreign countries, which is equivalent to 23 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Cambodia owes $1.5 billion to Russia, which loaned the money during the 1980s when Cambodia was under the Soviet sphere of influence.

Yim Sovann, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, said Cambodia will soon be unable to obtain foreign loans from any country if Russia does not eliminate the debt.

" The debt rate will increase ... and Cambodia will not be able to ask for any ... loans . "

"The debt rate will increase to the maximum rate, and Cambodia will not be able to ask for any more loans," Yim Sovann said.

Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Committee of Finance, Banking and Audits, assured lawmakers on Monday that Russia will cut 70 percent of Cambodia's debt, but he said in the unlikely event that it did not, Cambodia would still be in good shape financially.

"If Russia does not eliminate our debt, Cambodia will continue to repay it and will still be able to ask for additional loans from other countries," he said.

In early December, the Russian Finance Ministry denied reports that it had decided to eliminate most of Cambodia's debt to the country.

On December 9, the head of Moscow's International Financial Relations Department told the Russian media: "The talks are under way. The debt exists and should be settled ... but we have not signed a bilateral agreement."

A real plan

You Hockry, a Norodom Ranariddh Party lawmaker, demanded at the National Assembly that the government develop a plan to reduce foreign debt that does not rely on Russia's whims. "We will have to confront the fact that no foreign nations will be willing to loan to us in the future," he warned.

"I appreciate that the government can still collect foreign loans, but the aid that the Khmer people really welcome is nonrefundable," You Hockry said.

Ouk Rabun, a secretary of state at the Finance Ministry, confirmed that Cambodia is shifting its attention to acquiring aid.

"Cambodia will stop asking for loans in the future," he said. "Since 2005, our tendency has been to focus more on foreign aid than on loans."

"Most countries are happy to provide aid if they know Cambodia is capable of implementing its projects," Ouk Rabun said.

Nonetheless, Ouk Rabun said that Cambodia will still ask for about $200 million in foreign loans this year to develop infrastructure in the provinces.

Keep your lid on

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Forty ANZ Royal Bank employees gather at the bank's Independence Monument branch to celebrate Helmet Wearing Day. The day was organised to show support for the new law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. ANZ provides its employees with helmets and distributes 500 helmets to students in Cambodia annually.

Prison death highlights need for judicial reform

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sophan Seng
Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Dear Editor,

I appreciate appealing for a thorough investigation by UN representatives into the death of Heng Touch ("UN representatives call for investigation into prison death", November 27).

This case is not the first one of impunity to happen in Cambodia. Legal frailty is strongly rooted in Cambodia and it has gradually become the "culture of impunity".

Since 1993, administrative and judicial reform has been one of the priorities of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC). After the Untac-sponsored election, the UN and other international stakeholders have utilised the carrot-and-stick tactic to speed up the reforms in Cambodia.

On one hand, they have urged the RGC to accelerate reforms with soft and hard pressure, while on the other hand, they still keep providing funds to develop various projects run by the government. But we can see that the writing of laws has become the only result of their efforts, while implementation [of these laws] is still slack.

The RGC has to achieve its obligation in the Cambodian Constitution, as well as the treaties that it has signed with foreign donors to pursue good governance, decentralisation, curbing of corruption and strengthening of the rule of law.

I admire the RGC's "Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development of Cambodia", otherwise named the "Triangular Plan", "Rectangular Plan" and "Millennium Development Goals of Cambodia".

Each strategic plan well describes the willingness to reform the legal system, particularly the national court and judiciary. The fourth mandate of RGC is going to carry out the same strategic plan with little adjustment for its next five years in power, and I wish that this good plan should not exist solely on paper.

The question of Heng Touch dying as the prisoner is relevant to the issue of the RGC's achievements in legal reform and ongoing impunity in Cambodia.

This single case has drawn our attention to many other victims savaged by the hidden and rarely-punished perpetrators. Politicians, actresses, popular singers, Buddhist monks, unionists and ordinary people who have been devastated or even murdered have been waiting for the day when this culture of impunity will be eliminated.

The UN, as well as foreign donors and the Cambodian people, is eagerly looking forward to seeing the complete achievement of judicial reform in Cambodia.

Sophan Seng
PhD student in political science
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Police Blotter: 30 Dec 2008

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Tuesday, 30 December 2008

RACING RIVALS INJURED IN TAKEO

Rival gang members were arrested for fighting in Takeo province's Daun Keo district. According to the police, three members of one gang - Mao Sophal, 32, Mao Sdok, 22, and Sun Pros, 25 - and four members of another gang - Ouk Kim Srorn, 36, Ork Sam Ath, 24, Sy Vibol, 28, and Seim Piseth, 28 - were taken to the police station, educated and released. The fight occurred following a street race.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

FIRESIDE FRATRICIDE LEAVES ONE DEAD

Pouy Leuk, 19, murdered his brother Pouy Mao, 25, by repeatedly stabbing him in the head on December 22 in Som Thom commune in Ratanakkiri province. Pouy Mao, Pouy Leuk, Pouy Phlol and a neighbour started a fire adjacent to the Pouy household. The neighbour said that if the smoke touched any part of the Pouys' house, then the Pouy family would be poor forever. This angered Pouy Mao, who then took a chain and tried to pull the neighbour's house down. Pouy Phlol tried to stop him and was hit and injured seriously by Pouy Mao. Upon seeing this, Pouy Leuk grabbed a knife and sliced Pouy Mao's skull repeatedly. Pouy Leuk was arrested and taken to the provincial court, Pouy Phlol was taken to O'Yadao referral hospital, and Pouy Mao died on the spot.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

FOUR-YEAR-OLD KILLED IN HOUSE FIRE
Thoeun Thea, 4, was killed in a fire in O'Taseik village in Kampong Cham's Steng Trorng district on Saturday. His father, Taem Thoeun, 45, was seriously burned and taken to the provincial hospital. A kerosene lamp sparked the fire. The two older children escaped the flames and ran to their father, who then went into the house to try and save his sleeping son. He sustained serious burns and nearly died.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

PRISONER ESCAPES FROM HOSPITAL

Nuon Ngin, a prisoner from Battambang, is on the loose after escaping from a provincial hospital where he was receiving treatment. He had served only five years of his 15-year sentence for robbery. It is not known what he was being treated for at the hospital.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

PHNOM PENH'S DOOR THIEVES NABBED

Two suspects, Phoeuk Makara, 20, and Mao Tauch, 20, were arrested while carrying stolen iron door shields from newly built flats in Phnom Penh on Saturday. They were trying to sell the doors at Phsar Tauch.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

Why Al Qaeda isn't gaining a foothold in Cambodia

Village Elder: Yousuf Bin Abetalip, one of Cambodia's 400,000 Muslims.
David Montero

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

The post-Khmer Rouge nation is a portrait of tolerance for Muslims, but the US worries that this could change.

By David Montero Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the December 30, 2008 edition

CHROYAMONTREY, Cambodia - In this village, and others like it throughout Cambodia, Muslims and non-Muslims live side by side in harmony, their existences unmarred by the toxic cocktail of government repression, separatist ambitions, and growing radicalism characteristic of many neighboring countries.

"I've been living with Muslim neighbors since I was young," says resident Ouk Ros. "When there's a marriage, we join together in the party."

Still, as money and influence from the Persian Gulf pours into Cambodia, many fear that pockets of the 400,000 strong Muslim community could fall into the orbit of a less-tolerant form of Islam.

"There are some organizations here from the Middle East that are very radical and that are very intolerant, and they are trying very hard to change the attitude and the atmosphere of the Muslim population here," the outgoing US Ambassador, Joseph Mussomeli warned in August.

A unique confluence of modern history, geography, and government initiative have combined to foster tolerance in Cambodia, many observers here say.

In Thailand and the Philippines, Muslim communities are concentrated in separate – and often disadvantaged – territories, which are byproducts of ancient kingdoms to which Muslims once belonged. Separatists in Thailand's south have been fighting for greater autonomy since 2004 and in the Mindanao area of the Philippines since the 1970s.

But Cambodia's Muslims, sometimes referred to as Chams – a reference to an ancient empire of warriors, the Kingdom of Champa – have always lived dispersed throughout the country.

"We don't have any separate lands, and we don't want any separate lands," says Osman Ysa, the author of two books on Cambodia's Cham population. "We consider this country as our own."

To date, Muslims here have also eschewed radical politics, although not without exception. In 2003, authorities arrested a Cambodian citizen, as well as an Egyptian and two Thai nationals, all suspected of ties to Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al-Qaeda affiliate based in South Asia.

Cambodia's unique and dark modern history helps explain why the dominant form of Islam remains both peaceful and accommodating, Muslim leaders say. When the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, they outlawed religion and set about decimating the Muslim population. By 1979, when the Khmer Rouge fell, about 500,000 Muslims had been killed – nearly 70 percent – according to one of Mr. Ysa's studies.

As a result, the violence of Al Qaeda today reminds Muslim leaders of the Khmer Rouge of yesterday.

"When Cambodia was controlled by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge look liked Al Qaeda," says Sley Ry, the director of religious education at the Cambodian Islamic center, Cambodia's largest Islamic school, located near Phnom Penh.

"We've already suffered a lot.... We are very disappointed by Al Qaeda because God tells: 'Don't kill people,' " adds Yousuf Bin Abetalip, an elder of Choy Changua, a village just outside of Phnom Penh, where about 300 Muslim families live.

Buddhism is the state religion in this country of 14 million, but the country's constitution enshrines freedom of worship. Unlike in China, where the Communist government has been accused of limiting the freedom of Muslims to worship, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has built large mosques and provided free radio airtime for Muslim programming.

Beyond such overtures, Muslims enjoy real political power. About a dozen serve in top political offices. Mr. Sen even has his own advisor on Muslim affairs.

But there are fears that Cambodia's moderate form of Islam could be contested. In recent months, ties between Cambodia and the Persian Gulf have grown as the Gulf States look to Cambodia as a potential buyer of oil and supplier of food. In September, the government of Kuwait pledged $546 million in soft loans, while Qatar pledged $200 million. Kuwait has also earmarked $5 million to refurbish a mosque in Phnom Penh.

There are fears that the money could open the door to private individuals and foundations who seek to influence the Muslim community here. Whether founded or not, in January, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened its first office in Cambodia, citing the potential for terrorism.

"Cambodia is an important country to us for the potential of persons transiting Cambodia – using Cambodia as a spot for utilizing terrorism," FBI director Robert Mueller said, inaugurating the new office.

In September, the prime minister announced a new law to more tightly control nongovernmental organizations. Sen's reasoning: "Terrorists might come to the Royal Government of Cambodia and hide themselves under the banners of nongovernment organizations."

Some critics contend the law is not aimed at terrorists, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that routinely criticize Sen's administration.

"It's not only to control the terrorists groups, but also to control NGOs in general," says Thun Saray, the director of Adhoc, a human rights organization based in Phnom Penh.

As concern over terrorism grows, Muslims here, including Mr. Abetalip, say they will be the first to prevent it. "If there's any Cambodian people who want to follow Al Qaeda, we will straight away arrest them and bring them to the government."

Controversial doc opens sch

Dr Richner has set up five children's hospitals in Cambodia.

THE STRAITS TIMES

Dec 30, 2008

By Ben Bland , FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SIEM REAP: - A controversial Swiss doctor who has frequently clashed with international health experts is continuing his fight to bring world-class healthcare to Cambodia's children by setting up an academy to train doctors and pouring additional millions into one of his hospitals.

Dr Beat Richner, who has set up five children's hospitals in Cambodia with funds from private donors, has built a new wing at his hospital in Siem Reap, close to the renowned temples at Angkor Wat, to solve a chronic shortage of beds. He refuses to turn patients away and many children are currently treated on mats on the floor.

The US$12 million (S$17 million) extension, which incorporates a state-of-the-art MRI scanner as well as 200 extra beds, is being launched today, alongside a new academy to train young doctors who are keen to pursue similar humanitarian projects.

The opening ceremony is being presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni, who has been a strong supporter of Dr Richner's work ever since he set up his first hospital in Phnom Penh in 1992.

The Kantha Bopha hospitals provide free treatment to 85 per cent of all sick children in Cambodia and Dr Richner claims that his foundation saves 90,000 lives a year.

An accomplished cellist, he plays twice-weekly fund-raising concerts at his Siem Reap hospital to tourists visiting the Angkor Wat temples.

His hospitals cost US$25 million a year to run and most of the funding is from private donors. Many of his backers are in Switzerland, where he is something of a celebrity. The Cambodian and Swiss governments also contribute 16 per cent of his annual budget.

However, his methods have brought him into conflict with international health groups such as the World Health Organisation. They argue that reliance on individual foreign donors and use of expensive equipment and drugs make his approach unsustainable.

They say efforts to improve Cambodian health standards should focus on state-run hospitals and the promotion of basic health care and hygiene.

The Kantha Bopha Academy of Pediatrics, which will hold its first six-month course in July next year, is being launched in part as a response to these criticisms.

'They say we are not sustainable but I want to help train the next generation of doctors so we can have more Kantha Bophas around the world,' said Dr Richner.

By avoiding corruption and using international-standard technology, he insists that his approach has provided economically efficient and medically correct health care.

The academy is aimed at 'promoting this positive experience and creative know-how to other parts of the world with similar conditions and needs', he added.

Although the academy will be open to all fully qualified physicians, the focus will be on training young doctors from developing nations in South-east Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.

The fees are likely to be subsidised for those who cannot to afford to pay. Courses will be run by doctors from the Kantha Bopha hospitals as well as visiting professors from Switzerland.

Dr Richner first worked in Cambodia in 1974 but was forced to flee when the murderous Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975. He returned in 1991 to rebuild the main children's hospital in Phnom Penh at the request of former king Norodom Sihanouk.

Cambodian official: 70% of Soviet-era debt to be forgiven

www.chinaview.cn
2008-12-30

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- A Cambodian lawmaker insisted that most of the 1.5 billion U.S. dollars of debt that Cambodia borrowed from Russia will be scratched, although the lender had denied it, national media said on Tuesday.

This cancellation will potentially reduce almost two-thirds of the debt that the kingdom owed to foreign nations, said English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post.

Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Committee of Finance, Banking and Audits of the National Assembly, on Monday assured other lawmakers that Russia will cut 70 percent of Cambodia's debt.

If not, Cambodia will still be in good shape financially, he said.

"If Russia doesn't eliminate our debt, Cambodia will continue to repay it and will still be able to ask for additional loans from other countries," he added.

According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Cambodia now owes 2.37 billion U.S. dollars to foreign countries, which is equivalent to 23 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Around 63 percent of the debt is owed to Russia due to loans in the 1980s when the former Soviet Union was a major benefactor to Cambodia.

Editor: Yang Lina

Fearful Families Await Court Verdict

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
29 December 2008

Families for accused murderers Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun are fearfully awaiting a final decision by the Supreme Court over whether the two will serve the remainders of their 20-year prison sentences.

Both men were tried and sentenced by Phnom Penh Municipal Court in August 2005 for the 2004 murder of popular labor leader Chea Vichea,but human rights groups, labor organizations and others widely agree they are innocent. The Court of Appeals in April 2007 upheld the verdict and sentence, and the Supreme Court began deliberations last week.

"I am waiting for the result of the Supreme Court and am trembling with fear on whether the court will decide to release him or now,because my son has not committed a murder," said Noun Kim Sri, mother of Born Samnang.

"I have no hope for a Supreme Court decision to release him, but I've put my hope on the king to pardon him," said Vorun Phnon, Sok Samoeun's father.

A number of organizations, from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to the UN's human rights office and the International Labor Organization, have called of the courts to weigh the evidence fairly as judges weigh the fates of the two men. But there was little faith among some that the courts, accused of political bias and corruption, would act accordingly.

"The Cambodian government has long acknowledged weaknesses in the judiciary and made commitments to address this, but has taken no meaningful steps to do so," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"The court is corrupt, unjust, political and not independent," said Chea Mony, who is the brother of Chea Vichea and now heads Chea Vichea's labor movement, the Free Trade Union of Workers in theKingdom of Cambodia. "If the court does not free Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, my Free Trade Union will hold a mass demonstration against all levels of the court."

Hong Kimsoun, lawyer for the two men, said he had prepared a legalstrategy to fight a Supreme Court guilty verdict. But, he said, "Ihope my clients will get justice from the hearing by the SupremeCourt, because my clients did not commit murder, and we have enoughevidence, witnesses and time" to prove it.

Residents Defy Eviction to the End

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

A group of residents of Phnom Penh's Dey Krahorm neighborhood are fighting to the last city orders to relocate to the outskirts of the city, with a final eviction notice issued by the city on Dec. 25.

Chamkarmon District Governor Lo Yuy said in his order the residents have until Tuesday, Dec. 30, to leave the neighborhood, but the impoverished residents said they were ready to face armed confrontation over their right to remain.

"They wait for an armed eviction by the authorities," resident Chan Vichet told reporters Monday. "They will use their rights to protect their property if there is a forced eviction."

Bun Rachana, a member of the Housing Rights Task Force, which advocates for resident rights, appealed to the government and the 7NGdevelopment company not to use violence against the remaining families, urging instead more time to find an acceptable resolution to the brewing confrontation.

Neither Ly Yuy, Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema nor 7NG Director Srei Sothea could not be reached for comment Monday, but Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Man Chhoeurn said he believed Kep Chuktema would resolve the situation peacefully.

"I believe that our leaders are clever enough to resolve this issue,"he said, adding that so far 1,374 out of 1,465 Dey Krahorm families had relocated.

The removal of the residents stems from an April 2004 agreement between the city government and 7NG to develop 3.6 hectares of slum area, forcing the removal of hundreds of families to suburb in Dangkor district, where the newly relocated found few services or job opportunities and began demanding greater compensation.

The dozens of families that remain could face charges varying from thedestruction of property and assault on 7NG employees. One man wassentenced in August to three years in prison on assault, defamationand forgery charges stemming from conflicts with the developmentcompany and city authorities.

Tribunal Upholds Khieu Samphan Detention

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
29 December 2008

Khmer Rouge tribunal judges on Monday denied a new request for the temporary release of Khieu Samphan, whose pre-trial detention hearing has been delayed by a defense request to have thousands of documents translated into French.

Khieu Samphan's defense team appealed last year to end provisional detention of the former nominal head of the regime, who was arrested in November 2007 and faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the April hearing was postponed by the courts' failure to fulfill a request for the translation of some 60,000 documents from Khmer into French.

The lawyers, Jacques Verges and Sar Savan, then filed an urgent supplemental application Dec. 4 requesting again their client's release, claiming Khieu Samphan, 77, was being "held arbitrarily," as proceedings face continued delays.

"The application is inadmissible," said Prak Kimsan, president of the Pre-Trial Chamber, in a Dec. 24 decision.

Defense lawyers could not be reached for comment Monday.

The tribunal, which was established in 2006 after years of negotiationbetween Cambodia and the UN, has yet to try one of the five formerleaders of the regime it has in custody. The first trial, of prisonchief Kaing Kek Iev, is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2009.

Protesters Force New Thailand PM To Delay Speech

Thai protesters offer alms to Buddhist monks during a protest outside parliament Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand. The protesters, supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, staged a protest against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva claiming that he came to power this month through a virtual coup d'etat.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

A Buddhist monk, center, splashes holy water to Thai protesters during a protest outside Parliament Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand. The protesters, supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, staged a protest against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva claiming that he came to power this month through a virtual coup.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra holding Thai national flags block a road leading to Parliament during a protest rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008. Thousands of supporters of Thaksin surrounded Parliament, daring lawmakers to pass through their ranks to deliver a speech outlining the new government's key policies.(AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Buddhist monks receive food from supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a protest against the government outside Parliament in Bangkok December 29, 2008.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Buddhist monks make their way in line to take alms past protesters outside Parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Dec. 29, 2008. Thousands of supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra surrounded Parliament, daring lawmakers to pass through their ranks to deliver a speech outlining the new government's key policies.(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

A supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra holds a protest placard outside the entrance of Parliament in Bangkok on December 29. A rally by thousands of protesters outside the Thai parliament building forced the government to delay Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's maiden policy address, officials said.(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra shout slogans as they block the entrance of Parliament in Bangkok on December 29. A rally by thousands of protesters outside the Thai parliament building forced the government to delay Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's maiden policy address, officials said.(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Thai riot police officers stand in formation while guarding inside parliament as protesters stage a protest outside Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thousands of supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra surrounded Thailand's Parliament on Monday, daring lawmakers led by new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, to pass through their ranks to deliver a speech outlining the new government's key policies.(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)
MORNING STAR

12-29-08

BANGKOK (AFP)--Thousands of protesters blockaded Thailand's parliament Monday, forcing new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to delay his maiden policy speech twice and deepening the kingdom's drawn-out political crisis.

Red-shirted demonstrators loyal to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 military coup, said they would seal off the entrances to parliament until U.K.-born Abhisit calls new elections.

The siege was a familiar situation for many Thais, with protesters copying tactics employed by rival yellow-shirted activists who helped bring down a government led by Thaksin's allies in early December.

The pro-Thaksin protesters said they would allow Abhisit and his cabinet to walk into parliament - but not to come in by car.

Authorities said it was unsafe for legislators to walk in because of the risk of violence.

"The government has informed me that they are coordinating with protesters and have asked me to delay," said house speaker Chai Chidchob, announcing that the speech - originally due to start at 9:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) - had been put off for a second time from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The speech could be further delayed until Tuesday or even into the new year, he said.

The policy address to the upper and lower houses of parliament is a constitutional requirement before Abhisit's government can start work.

Police said about 9,000 "red-shirts" descended on parliament overnight, after at least 20,000 Thaksin supporters had gathered Sunday night at a city center parade ground several kilometers away.

"We call for the government to dissolve the house and return power to the people," said Chalerm Yoobamrung, a core leader of the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai ( For Thais) party.

Oxford-educated Abhisit won a parliamentary vote two weeks ago to become Thailand's third premier in four months, after a court dissolved the former ruling People Power Party, or PPP, loyal to Thaksin, on Dec. 2.

Abhisit, the head of the Democrat Party, sealed the vote with the help of defectors from the PPP and coalition parties previously allied with it.

Supporters of Thaksin, who is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption, said the verdict in a vote fraud case was a "disguised coup" against the former government.

That verdict followed months of protests by the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy, or PAD, an anti-Thaksin group that blockaded Bangkok's airports earlier this month, causing major damage to the economy.

Abhisit said last week he had ordered police to avoid a repeat of the clashes that occurred at parliament on Oct. 7, when the PAD tried to stop then-premier Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, from delivering his policy speech.

The violence left two people dead and about 500 injured.

The 44-year-old Abhisit faces various problems, ranging from Thailand's sputtering economy to the stark divide between pro- and anti-Thaksin forces.

He has vowed a "grand plan of reconciliation" and a THB300 billion ($8.6 billion) economic stimulus package, but caused controversy by appointing a vocal supporter of the PAD's airport blockade as his foreign minister.

Twice-elected Thaksin is still loathed by many among the Bangkok-based elite in the military, palace and bureaucracy, who backed the PAD and see Thaksin as corrupt, authoritarian and a threat to their traditional power base.

But his populist policies won him huge support among the urban and rural poor, especially in his native north and northeast, home to many of Sunday's protesters.

"I don't want the Democrat Party to form the government, and I don't want Abhisit Vejjajiva to be prime minister," company worker Saeng Arun said at the protest.

Seven face imprisonment for trafficking children

The file photo shows four Chinese children rescued last year by Vietnamese Police

Saigon
Monday , Dec 29, 2008

The HCM City People’s Procuracy, the prosecutor’s office, has filed charges of human trafficking against seven people.


Since July 2005 they have allegedly been running a network that brought children from China into Vietnam and on to Cambodia through Tay Ninh Province.

After arriving in Cambodia, they would pass the abducted children to another gang which would take them to France, according to the procuracy.

They allegedly trafficked 58 children on 18 occasions.

By L.T.Han – Translated by Thuy Doan

Tourism trouble on Thailand's tropical island of Phuket

A Thai ladyboy (transsexual) parades Bangla Road on Patong Beach, Phuket Island in southern Thailand. This year's tourist season on Thailand's biggest island looks set to be the worst for a long time, as the country continues to reel from political chaos.(AFP/File/Christophe Archambault)


by Jacqueline Pietsch – Mon Dec 29

PHUKET, Thailand (AFP) – As Thai women in tartan schoolgirl outfits writhe listlessly around poles on the bar top, Dawan Blades scribbles in a black ledger and shakes her head. The numbers simply don't add up.

This year's tourist season on Thailand's biggest island of Phuket looks set to be the worst since Blades took over Sharky's Bar six years ago.

Located at the entrance of a huge bar complex in Patong Beach, Phuket's busiest tourist town, Sharky's should be standing room only. Instead, barely half the bar stools are occupied.

"Business is down, darling. Dead, no good," Blades drawls.

Phuket, along with the rest of Thailand, is reeling from the aftermath of political protests in Bangkok that brought the capital's two main airports to a standstill for eight days from late November to early December.

Images of hundreds of thousands of stranded travellers desperate to leave the country were beamed around the world, prompting droves of tourists to cancel holidays planned for December and January.

The airport siege could not have come at a worse time. Peak season in Thailand runs from November to February and industry officials believe it will be at least four months before business recovers.

Sunbathers still dot Phuket's sandy white beaches but in far fewer numbers than is usual at this time of year.

Nevertheless, it's a dream come true for some holidaymakers more used to Phuket's mass tourism.

"I was here three months ago in the low season and it was much busier back then," said Chenae King from western Australia, who has been travelling for five months.

"It's good for us because you don't have to battle with anyone else. They're struggling to sell so you get everything for really low prices," she said.

Many hotels have halved their room rates to drum up business but occupancy has still dropped to 50 percent from an average of 80 percent, according to the Thai Hotel Association.

On the streets of Patong, entertainers work hard to draw customers into bars and nightclubs.

Flourishing red feather boas and flaunting plunging necklines, transvestites from Tangmo cabaret are spending a lot of time these days pounding the footpaths and posing posed for photos with passers-by.

It doesn't seem to make much difference.

"Business has really gone downhill," said the cabaret's owner, Chanok Kaewseenuan, who is better known as Tangmo. "It's much worse than after the tsunami."

The tsunami, which killed 5,400 people in Thailand in December 2004 and a total of 220,000 people across Asia, has become the benchmark for the drop in business.

Tourism bounced back relatively quickly after the natural disaster. This time, it may take longer as the global economic downturn hits purse strings and slows international travel.

Officials believe they can weather the latest storm, however long.

"Our experience with the tsunami has shown us how to cope, how to survive," said Sethaphan Buddhani, director of the Thailand Tourism Authority in Phuket.

"We help each other, not only the government but also the private sector and banks. We help each other in terms of loans for example. We will extend the hotels' loans by at least three years," Buddhani added.

The government is mulling a 625-million-dollar rescue package for the tourism industry amid warnings from the Thai Hotels Association that 100,000 hotel workers could lose their jobs.

Lay-offs are a last resort in Phuket though. Both Chanok and Blades pledged to keep their staff on, even if it means dipping into savings.

"Before business was very good. There were many customers, work was non-stop," said Blades, who employs 16 people at Sharky's Bar and many more at her massage parlour, beauty salon and restaurant.

"I'm not going to cut salaries now. I'll use money from before to pay staff and wait for better times."

At Tangmo, the show must go on so the girls sashay onto the stage for the first of three nightly performances in front of a near-empty audience.

A Return From France: The Story of Return and Survival

Neou Sarem leaving Pochengtong Airport to France, 1974.

By VOA Khmer
Washington
29 December 2008

AUDIO-PHOTO SLIDESHOW, narrated by Neou Sarem, click here

Neou Sarem was born March 18, 1940, in Kandal province's Kien Svay district, in a household of seven children. Her father, a businessman, owned a cargo boat that carried rice across Indochina.

After graduating Preah Norodom College and Lycee Sisowath, she was trained as a French teacher, instructing in Sisophan from 1964 to 1966 before returning to Phnom Penh in 1966.

She was married in July 1970, to Nuon Sari, who worked at the Bank of Development in Phnom Penh and studied economics and law at the Faculty of Law. Her first daughter, Nuon Sari Sakura, nicknamed Atat, was born April 18, 1971. Her second daughter, Nuon Sari Romuni, or Srey Touch, was born July 24, 1974.

In September, 1974 Neou Sarem was awarded a scholarship from the French government, to study in Besancon for nine months. Eight months after her arrival, the Khmer Rouge swept to power and began Year Zero. By January 1976, she had returned, having lost parents, one sister, her husband, her daughters, and one brother. (Those siblings who survived now live in the US and Canada.)

On June 16, 1979, Neou Sarem arrived in the US, in San Francisco, moving through several towns in California with her younger brother, who had come to America in 1974 on scholarship as a Khmer naval officer. She worked as a social services provider, owned a restaurant and was a volunteer broadcaster, creating Radio Programme, a Khmer-language radio program in Minnesota that is still operating today.

She now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her second husband, Kim Touy Khu, a retired electrical engineer who also lost his wife and children under Democratic Kampuchea. They have one daughter, who lives in Minnesota.

Cambodia learns about Vietnam’s agricultural development experiences

VOV News
12/29/2008

Vietnam should increase investment in agriculture in Cambodia, said the Chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Commission, Chheang Vun, at a recent reception for Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia Nguyen Chien Thang.

The programme will benefit both nations as it will help Cambodia learn about Vietnam’s agricultural production experiences and improve the local people’s living conditions, while Vietnam will be able to increase its farm produce for export, Chheang Vun said.

Cambodia annually exports more than US$200 million worth of products to Vietnam and imports goods totalling around US$1 billion from the country.

Ambassador Thang pledged to ask the government to consider Cambodia’s suggestion, saying that boosting investment in Cambodia is one of Vietnam’s priority areas in order to beef up bilateral relations. He said that Vietnamese companies are planning to grow rubber trees on an additional 30,000ha in Cambodia in addition to over 30,000ha already planted in Kracheh province.

He also emphasised the importance of cooperation for mutual development in the triangle region shared by Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Vietnam hopes that Cambodia will host a meeting between leaders from the triangle region’s 10 provinces next year to introduce the potential for development in this area, the diplomat added.

VOVNews/VNA

Exiled to Cambodia


Phally Rin, raised in the United States but born in Cambodia, was deported there in April.

Press-Telegram
By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
12/28/2008

LONG BEACH - For the first few months afterward, whenever the doorbell rang, 5-year-old Dieon Rin rushed to answer yelling, "It's Daddy! Daddy's home!"

But it never was Daddy. Never will be. The truth is something even Dieon's mother has been unable to grasp, much less explain to her son - Daddy can never come home again.

The father, Phally Rin, was deported to Cambodia in April for a crime committed more than a decade earlier.

Under U.S. law, he is permanently barred from returning to this country.

Veasana Ath was a carefree young man. He wasn't a bad kid, just easily swayed by friends. His older sister, Sophea, would scold him and say he'd wind up in trouble one day.

Neither realized how right she was.
Solony Kong and her sons were forcibly parted from her husband in April, when he was deported to Cambodia for a crime he committed as a youth. Kong says her younger son has been unable to understand that his father, forever barred from the United States, won t be able to return home. (Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)

After being convicted of residential burglary in early 2004, Ath was put on a plane in December of that year and sent to Cambodia.

Rin and Ath are part of a growing number of Cambodian-American men who have been deported from the United States to the impoverished land of their birth.

Before deportation, the two had little or no connection to their 'homeland.' They fled the ravages of the Cambodian genocide with their families as young children.

They were raised and schooled in the U.S. and yet, from now on, they are forever Cambodian, with no hope of returning to their families and the land where they were raised, but not born.

Rin and Ath are just two of 189 Cambodian- Americans deported for a variety of crimes, ranging from murder and rape to lesser offenses like burglary and crimes committed long ago.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data on removals in 2008, of more than 111,000 criminal removals, 30 percent were for "dangerous drugs" and
17 percent were for violent crimes. The rest were for a range of lesser crimes, including traffic offenses.
The Ath family, which gathered years ago in a Thai refugee camp, has been torn by the deportation of Veasana Ath, who was found guilty of burglary in 2004. Ath has no relatives in Cambodia now.

It is a strategy endorsed by many in Congress.

"I would suggest that anything that is a felony, any behavior that causes someone to be convicted, is a good reason to deport them," says Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, whose district includes portions of coastal Long Beach.

Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach, did not respond to several interview requests.

The Human Rights Watch estimates the deportation of legal immigrants has separated 1.6 million children and adults.

In Long Beach, a large number of Cambodians have been expelled. Their family members, many of them American citizens, are the collateral damage.

Suely Ngouy, the executive director of Khmer Girls In Action, which is involved in immigrant and refugee rights issues, says deportation has ripped a swath through the local Cambodian community, and crushed an already fragile segment of the population.
After the deportation, Dieon Rin kept expecting his daddy to show up at the family's door.

"It has devastated families emotionally," says Ngouy, who knows many affected families. "It takes away a son, a daughter, a sibling that has kept together the fabric of what little stability exists."

Since Ath's deportation, his mother has had a series of health problems, including minor strokes, that the family attributes to stress.

Kim Hok, 61, doesn't speak much English. But as she listens to the family talk about Veasana, she understands enough. Her eyes fill with tears. She excuses herself from the room and rises unsteadily. The only sound is her cane clicking on the tile floor.

For many families, the shame they feel over deportation leaves them suffering in silence and fear.

Tuy Sobil, a former Crips gang member convicted of armed robbery and deported to Cambodia, has become a success story in Phnom Penh. He has turned around his criminal life and now runs a successful nonprofit called Tiny Toones that helps children from the slums through break dancing, of all things.

Despite his turnaround and newfound celebrity, Tuy's parents turn down requests for interviews.

"It's just too hard for them," says Dabson Tuy, Sobil's brother.

Horrors revisited

Most Cambodian families are refugees from the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970 s that claimed about 2 million lives. Most saw family members, friends, children and adults removed by a ruthless government. They fled to escape that.

"We came here because of U.S. intervention and involvement (in our country)," Ngouy says.

The damage is extensive, she adds - retraumatization from the removals, deepening of poverty from the loss of wage earners and additional mental health problems, such as depression.

"To have to go through this exhausts what little resources they have to survive and it's affecting the second generation that is supposed to be the hope," Ngouy says.

To her, the longer-term outcome has been to retard the growth of the overall community, because younger Cambodians see little hope and opportunity after witnessing their parents' struggles.

Lekha Khin, the brother-in-law of Ath, says he lost 50 to 60 family members in the genocide and is one of the few left. It dismays him that the United States is now tearing his family apart.
"The government, they don't feel nothing," Khin says.

Sakhoun Yim, Rin's mother, says she dragged her family for a week through rice paddies and minefields to escape the holocaust before reaching a refugee camp.

In 1997, Yim watched in horror from her porch in central Long Beach as her youngest son, Simona Rin, was shot in the back by a drive-by shooter as he was going to play basketball. A 16-year-old at Wilson High, Simona was described by as a "model kid," with no gang history.

Yim lost another son, Akhara Rin, to street violence in Lowell, Mass., in 1993, and a grandson, Kerry Ya, was fatally shot at a friend's house in Long Beach in 2003.

And now she has lost Phally.

"I hurt so bad in my heart," she says in a choking voice. "I have two kids killed here. I don't want to live any more. I want they kill me."

Admittedly, many Cambodian-American deportees led violent lives, spent long stretches in jail and were members of notorious gangs. Several we met in Cambodia said the U.S. has been right to deport them.

Still the one-size-fits-all justice that can treat a petty one-time criminal like Ath the same as a career gangster has many deportation-reform advocates dumbfounded.

"The laws are not only cruel in their rigidity, they are senseless," said Alison Parker, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in a report for that organization. "How do you explain to a child that her father has been sent thousands of miles away and can never come home simply because he forged a check?"

Ghosts of crimes past

In 1989 as a teenager, Rin was in a friend's car in Massachusetts. When the teens were pulled over, a gun was found in the car and Rin did 18 months in state and INS custody on the gun charge.

He was ordered removed, although it meant little because Cambodia did not accept U.S. deportees.

Rin stayed out of trouble after the arrest and moved with his family to California.

Federal law changed in 1996, in the wake of the first bombing of the World Trade Center and widespread demands for immigration reform.

As part of the overhaul, a long list of crimes was added that made legal immigrants eligible for deportation, including crimes predating the law, such as Phally's gun charge. In 2002, Cambodia signed an agreement with the U.S. to accept deportable aliens.

Without knowing it, Rin had become deportable.

In 2004, neighbors called police during a domestic dispute in which Rin struck his wife, Solonly Kong. After being charged with spousal battery, Rin learned he was eligible for removal for the 15-year-old gun charge.

In 2007, Rin was fitted him with an ankle bracelet to monitor his movements and ordered to report regularly to immigration offices.

"They just put it on his ankle and said, 'Maybe in two years we'll let you go,"' Kong recalls. "They just lied."

Four years later, Rin was put on a plane to Cambodia.

Kong says Rin was the ideal husband, who stayed home and tended to his family.

"He make one mistake," she said in halting English. "If he was a bad guy, I don't feel this way. But he was always working seven days to support his family, even if he have an ache he did not stop. Any kind of job he would work."

Dieon is not the only child who is struggling without a father. Kong says she has a 15-year-old son from a previous relationship, who is "out of control" without the influence of a stepfather.

Kong feels lost and confused. She wants to join her husband in Cambodia after her oldest son finishes high school, but doesn't know how they would survive or what that would do to Dieon.

She wonders if Rin might be allowed to return one day.

"If he could come back in 10 years, I would wait," she says wistfully.

She asks if he can immigrate to Canada or Australia. She has no idea.

In the meantime, she calls Rin almost daily in Cambodia. Most of the conversations end in tears.
"Sometimes I go to places we would always go and I cry," Kong says.

She sees young families. She sees fathers with their sons and it all crashes in on her.

"That's why I don't want to go anywhere," she says. "I think I cannot live without him."

Kong says Dieon cries all the time for his daddy.

"I don't know what to tell him," she says through translation. "He's too young to understand that Daddy can't come back."

The last time Dieon saw his father, Rin was at a detention facility in Los Angeles. Dieon was weeping and kicking at the door, demanding that immigration officials let his daddy go.

Kong says she told Dieon his father had to go far away for work. She says when Dieon talked to his father, he pleaded with Rin to come back.

"He was saying 'I don't need any toys, Daddy, just please come home,"' Kong remembers.

Now Dieon often refuses to talk to his father on the phone because he thinks Daddy doesn't want to live with him.

No more tomorrows

Ath thought there was always tomorrow. While his older siblings worked hard, built businesses, went on to higher education and got jobs in government and private industry, Ath drifted through life.

His older siblings became citizens, but Ath never got around to it. Now, he never will.

It was stupidity that landed Ath in jail, then a series of legal missteps and ignorance that got him deported.

As Ath tells the story, he gave a friend a ride to the home of the friend's ex-girlfriend. She wasn't home, but while Ath waited in the car the friend stole her car keys. A neighbor recorded Ath's license plate.

Ashamed and embarrassed, Ath never told his family. A public defender negotiated a plea for a one-year sentence, of which Ath only had to serve a few months in county jail.

Possible immigration consequences never came up. Ath was transferred to ICE custody after serving his sentence and unwittingly signed documents, written in Khmer, accepting his removal.

Ath was released and thought if he changed his ways and proved he was responsible he would be allowed to stay in the U.S.

"I got a job and I worked every day," Ath says.

One day, however, ICE agents appeared at Ath's home, cuffed him and soon he was on a chartered flight with other deportees to Cambodia.

Life has been harsh and lonely in Cambodia, Ath says. At first he hung out with other American deportees, but tired of being ostracized. Now he says he spends his time alone.

When Ath first arrived in Cambodia, he found work but later gave up the job because co-workers who were Cambodian nationals harassed him, defaced his locker and slashed the tires to his bike.

After being unemployed for three years and existing off what money his family can spare, Ath says he recently found a job at a hotel. He is in his probationary period with the company.

The loneliness is one of the hardest parts for Ath, who has no relatives in Cambodia and misses his family.

"I just want a chance at least to visit my family," Ath says.

Sophea, 34, is able to keep a cool exterior when talking to reporters about her brother. But as she is walking to them to the gate of her home, the facade cracks.

"I'm just so mad at him for doing this to our family," she says, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand.

TUESDAY: Some deportees to Cambodia find redemption, others despair and death.
Watch Video:
Boney's Story
Veasna Ath's Story
KK
Solony Kong
Charlie

Dengue kills only 65 in '08

Dengue, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, infected 9,300 people during the year compared with 40,000 in 2007, the highest in nearly a decade. --PHOTO: ST

THE STRAITS TIMES

PHNOM PENH - ONLY 65 people died from dengue fever in Cambodia in 2008, down from 407 last year thanks to preventive measures taken by the government and international agencies, a Health Ministry official said on Monday.

Dengue, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes fever, headaches and agonising muscle and joint pains, infected 9,300 people during the year compared with 40,000 in 2007, the highest in nearly a decade, said Ngan Chantha, director of the ministry's anti-dengue programme.

'We had the best ever preparation to contain the spread of dengue,' he told Reuters.

Dengue kills an estimated 22,000 people a year around the world and, in the absence of commercially available vaccines, health authorities have to focus on controlling mosquitoes to stop it spreading.

The World Bank, the World Health Organisation and the Red Cross provided Cambodia with pesticides to kill mosquitoes this year, and the Asian Development Bank also gave US$300,000 (S$432,082) to the anti-dengue programme.

Cambodia's health care system was devastated in 30 years of civil war and the government spends just US$3 per person a year on health, according to the World Bank. -- REUTERS

We start a school in Cambodia

The New York Times
December 29, 2008
By Nicholas Kristof

There was a special reason for the timing of this trip to Cambodia, one you won’t read about in my columns: My family has built a junior high school in Cambodia, and we just had the opening ceremony. We timed it for the Christmas vacation, so our three kids — aged 11 through 16 — could see it. Oh, yes, and so that they could see kids who are desperately eager to get an education.

I’ve been visiting Cambodia for the last dozen years and have been particularly moved by the horrific sex trafficking here. One of the antidotes to prevent trafficking is education, and Cambodia is desperately short of schools. A couple of years ago I wrote about a school in Seattle that had funded a school in Cambodia through American Assistance for Cambodia. I was impressed with the organization and the way it gets extra bang for the buck through matching funds from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Moreover, in some countries, you build a school and have a nice new building, but the teachers never show up. That’s much less of a problem in Cambodia, where one of the bottlenecks truly is school buildings.

So my wife, Sheryl, and I talked it over and decided to start our own school. We had just received an advance for a book about women in the developing world — “Half the Sky,” coming out this fall! — and it seemed only appropriate to use the money to support girls in a poor country. And we also wanted to show our kids a glimpse of need abroad and the way education can transform people’s lives.

Our school is a middle school a couple of hours east of Phnom Penh, and it was finally finished this month. So Sheryl and I and the kids came here as a family trip, all five of us, and participated in the school-opening ceremony. It was quite an event: Buddhist monks opened it, the deputy governor spoke, and each member of our family spoke briefly. There were about 1,000 people attending, mostly students and their parents, and they got a real kick out of seeing my kids speak.

American Assistance for Cambodia is the brainchild of Bernie Krisher, a former news magazine correspondent who in 1993 started it as an aid group to support Cambodia. He has built 400 schools around the country, as well as health programs and projects to fight sex trafficking. He also publishes the Cambodia Daily, an English-language paper, and even persuaded J.K. Rowling to donate Khmer-language rights to “Harry Potter,” so that cheap Harry Potter books could encourage Cambodian children to start reading. Bernie is truly an extraordinary figure who is having a far-reaching impact on the people of Cambodia, and I’m just proud to know him.

If anyone out there wants to volunteer to teach English in the Cambodian countryside, the principal of our school said he would welcome an American teacher. He said the village would put the teacher up either at the Buddhist pagoda or in a local person’s home. If you’re interested, contact American Assistance for Cambodia to be put in touch with the principal.

Of course, there are lots of other ways to help Cambodia. I met a woman volunteering at teaching English to children at the garbage dump in Phnom Penh; she loves it and finds new meaning in the project. The organization is A New Day Cambodia, run by a Chicago couple and getting rave reviews all around. (There are fewer children at the dump now than when I last visited in 2004, and one reason is the New Day school.) And I had lunch with Alan Lightman, an MIT professor who on the side runs Harpswell Foundation, which provides a free dormitory and leadership training for young Cambodian women who otherwise would not be able to attend university.

In my speech to the new school, I told the kids that I sometimes wondered why America was so rich and Cambodia was so poor. It’s not because Americans are smarter or more industrious than Cambodians, because Cambodians are sharp as a whistle and incredibly hard-working. One of the factors, I believe, is the educational gap, and we’re just so pleased to do our part to reduce that gap.

Cambodian tour creates new awareness

Salina.com
12/29/2008

By DUANE SCHRAG
Salina Journal

Growing up in Salina, when Ben Romans heard the word "genocide" he thought about Hitler and the Third Reich's concentration camps.

Romans had no idea that as he was completing his junior year at Salina Central High School -- he graduated in 1999 -- the architect of one of the 20th century's most brutal regimes, Pol Pot, died at the age of 73. The atrocities Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge visited upon Cambodians in just three years of power still horrify the world.

If they're even discussed.

"What's bizarre to me is how much I didn't learn about the genocide in Cambodia," Romans said. "That ended while I was alive."

Romans is best known locally as a member of The Click Five, a pop group based in Boston that is preparing to release its third album. The group just completed a series of concerts in southeast Asia as part of an effort to make the world more aware of human trafficking.

The tour, which included concerts in Cambodia and Thailand, allowed members to visit areas where some of the atrocities committed during Pol Pot's regime were committed.

"It was probably the most powerful trip I've been involved with," Romans said. "What an eye-opener."

The tour was a collaboration of MTV Exit (for End Exploiting and Trafficking) and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Click Five, along with groups from Britain, Australia and Asia, performed at the Angkor Wat temple, in Phnom Pehn, and in Bangkok.

Romans said that playing in concert in the iconic 12th century temple -- the first rock concert ever delivered there -- was humbling.

"That kind of stuff makes your dreams come true," he said.

Romans said that learning about human trafficking has been a wrenching experience. Authorities say it's a global and ancient problem. The poor are promised jobs and educational opportunities, usually overseas. When they get there they discover they've been lied to, and they are turned into de facto slaves. If they are women or girls -- and most are -- they typically are forced into prostitution.

"There was a point in my life when I had no idea about human trafficking, no idea about the Pol Pot regime," Romans said. "I've been to a lot of places, but all of a sudden ..."

His voice trails off. "It was so heavy."

The experience has affected him in a number of ways. As a musician and songwriter, it has made him hear different messages in familiar lyrics. As a human, it has tempted him to leave the music scene and become a social worker.

But he's not ready to do that yet. While he is wary of being overtly political with his music, he does believe it can help focus attention on important issues.

"This is my gift," he says. "This is what I have to do."

n Reporter Duane Schrag can be reached at 822-1422 or by e-mail at dschrag@salina.com.

Dey Krahorm residents face eviction deadline

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Children overlook the Dey Krahorm slum, where residents face an eviction deadline Tuesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Monday, 29 December 2008

District authorities order residents to leave their homes by Tuesday or suffer forced removal, while community leaders pledge to resist

RESIDENTS of Dey Krahorm have been slapped with a final eviction notice and warned to leave by Tuesday or face forced removal, with local community leaders pledging to resist the order.

The site is at the centre of a months-long row between residents and the local developer that plans to clear the once heavily-populated site.

The order by district authorities would affect up to 130 mostly poor families who have refused to leave the riverside district.

"The district office would like to inform the remaining people that they will be removed from their houses on December 30," read a statement issued Thursday and signed by Chamkarmon district Governor Lo Yuy.

Developer 7NG has not publicised its plans for the site, located on prime land near the city centre.The "last notice" comes after the Phnom Penh Municipality authorised district officials to take action against Dey Krahorm residents who refuse to vacate, wrote Lo Yuy in the notice.

He said "1,374 families have already moved to a new relocation site, but only 91 have remained". The notice added that 7NG compensated residents with four-metre-by-10-metre houses in Dangkor district's Damnak Trayoeng village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

But angry residents have rejected the compensation, saying the new location is far from Phnom Penh's business centre and has no access to infrastructure.

Chan Vichet, who represents the residents, called the notice "unacceptable" and accused authorities of understating the number that remain. "We still have around 130 families at Dey Krahorm."

He said Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun informed him of the order by phone Wednesday, but that residents would resist expulsion. "We have prepared ourselves against possible eviction," he said.

"The company offered between US$17,000 and $18,000, but we want $50,000 [for new houses]," he said.

Srey Sothea, 7NG company chairman, said Sunday that the eviction order came after thousands of Dey Krahorm residents relocated to Damnak Trayoeng village. He said they would not be given titles to the new land until the resettlement was complete.

Drug users take a hit as police raids force them into hiding

Photo by: CHRISTOPHER SHAY
A man who says police shot him in the stomach two weeks ago as he fled a raid smokes yaba in Boeung Trabek.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay
Monday, 29 December 2008

Local NGOs condemn a spate of police raids targeting Phnom Penh’s injection drug users, saying it makes it more difficult to educate or deliver services to at-risk communities

Ongoing police raids in a known injection drug user area in Boeung Trabek have angered many NGOs that say this brutal and punitive style of law enforcement not only endangers Phnom Penh's drug users but also the general population.

"The raids heighten the public health risk because drug users engage with non-drug users. The more at-risk drug users are, the more at risk the general populace is," said David Harding, a drug specialist at Friends International.

Holly Bradford, founder of Korsang, a harm-reduction NGO, said she knew of around 50 drug users who were picked up and placed in Orkas Khnom, a government treatment centre.

"The raids have scattered drug users throughout the community. It has driven them underground," Harding said.

Four female drug users, who were picked up by police and released after a day because of a lack of capacity to detain female drug users, told the Post graphic stories of police abuse.

" The more at risk drug users are, the more at risk the general populace is. "

One woman pointed to bruises on her back and ribs and said she had been kicked and hit repeatedly by police officers. Another woman said she had been hit on the head with a police baton.

"Everybody gets beaten by the police - both men and women," a third woman said.

One woman said that the police intentionally stationed themselves between a major drug injection area and Korsang, an NGO that distributes sterilised needles to encourage users to inject more safely.

One male drug user said he had been shot in the stomach by police two weeks ago as he tried to escape a raid, lifting a bandage to reveal what appeared to be a bullet wound.

Earlier in the year, people who worked with drug users were optimistic that the government was finally taking steps towards adopting a harm-reduction approach to curb illicit drug use.

The much-lauded National Strategic Plan for Illicit Drug Use was supposed to ensure that different areas of government had the same goal of reducing HIV rates and eliminating the stigma of being a drug user.

But Graham Shaw, a technical officer at the World Health Organisation, said: "One of the missing links of the Strategic Plan was training police about their role in public health."

Shaw blamed the lack of awareness among senior law enforcement officers about harm-reduction techniques.

"A lot more needs to be done in the law enforcement aspect. The World Health Organisation is doing a lot in the health aspect, but one without the other is not enough," Shaw said.

Harding said: "There are elements of the Strategic Plan that involve reaching out to drug users, but obviously, if you can't reach them, you can't provide anything to them ... Different government institutions seem to be moving in opposite directions.

"Right now, there is a strong punitive approach to drug demand reduction. It's a reversal from the social approach in the Strategic Plan," he said.

In the meantime, more and more users are ending up in Orkas Khnom, a military-run, forced detoxification centre.

According to Frederick Curtis, a senior technical officer at Family Health International, the conditions at Orkas Khnom have improved greatly. Detainees have three nutritious meals a day and have safe drinking water.

But Bradford at Korsang said rounding up drug users and detaining them in mandatory detox centres was more likely to put them in danger.

"There is not one bit of scientific research that says forced detention works for drug users. They come back, and they are at huge risk for overdose."

Harding said the government treatment centres are "completely unequipped to deal with human beings in any way shape or form".

Without giving an explanation, Orkas Khnom has refused to receive a doctor from Korsang, according to Korsang's physician, Dr Vannda Kab, who said Orkas Khnom does not have a doctor who can safely deliver medicines.

Korsang has been unable to ensure that HIV-positive or tubercular patients receive the necessary medicine or support during withdrawal.

"Right now, users are suffering. Withdrawal without proper meds is painful," Bradford said.

This summer, the Ministry of Health is planning to launch a methadone maintenance pilot program, but many fear that harsh police treatment will undermine efforts to use methadone to humanely detox heroin addicts.

Shaw said the raids "will have a major negative impact on the confidence of drug users to use methadone treatment".

Moek Dara, director of the anti-drug department at the Ministry of Interior, would not comment on the recent police raids.

Boeung Kak lake residents take case to Supreme Court

Photo by: Chhay Channyda
A woman identified as Chan Tha is consoled by fellow Boeung Kak villagers after Thursday’s Appeals Court ruling.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Monday, 29 December 2008

Following another blow to legal efforts against forced eviction, lake residents to seek justice from Cambodia’s highest court

The attorney representing residents of Boeung Kak lake says he will lodge a complaint against their forced eviction with the Supreme Court after the Phnom Penh Appeal Court rejected a motion last week to stop development at the lake.

The lake, which is under a 99-year lease to Shukaku Inc, is currently being filled in by the company in preparation for development that will eventually displace some 4,000 families. Those set to lose their homes argue that they are not being fairly compensated. Rights groups, meanwhile, say the evictions are symptomatic of a general disregard for property rights.

The residents' lawyer, Choung Choungy, called the appeals hearings on Thursday "unjust", adding that "if the judge followed the rule of law, we would have won the case".

Residents waiting outside the courthouse were in a frenzy after a rejection of the appeal was announced.

"I depend on the court to find justice for our residents, but the court serves only the rich," said Chan Tha, who owns a home along the lake.

Another devastated resident, Be Pharom, insisted the legal proceedings were riddled with corruption. "For the poor, there is no justice," she said.

Attempts to block the development of the lake began in September when thousands of affected families filed an injunction at the Municipal Court demanding the project be halted. All court petitions so far have been denied.

Communities near the lake have also blamed floodwaters that forced the closure of many schools in the area for as many as three months on the filling of the lake, which environmentalists and urban planners have noted absorbs a significant volume of the rainy season's downpour.

Cheng Peng Hab, the lawyer for Shukaku who was present at the Appeals Court, insisted any complaints against the company were misplaced because it is not a party in the dispute.

"This case is a dispute between the people and Phnom Penh Municipality. Our company rented the land from the municipality. Therefore, the authorities of Phnom Penh have to work it out with the people."

90pc without bank services, says official

10%
Access to banking
Despite efforts to increase lending to the poor, about 90 percent of Cambodians have no access to credit and are often forced to rely on high-interest, informal lending through the country's loan sharks


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Monday, 29 December 2008

High interest rates and difficult-to-access locations make credit out of reach for most

ONLY a fraction of Cambodia's estimated 14 million people have access to official banking and finance institutions, leaving most owners of small and medium-sized businesses at the mercy of private lenders and sky-high interest rates, a government bank official said last week.

"Around 10 percent, or 1.3 million people, can borrow money from the banking system," said Tal Nay Im, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC).

"The rest borrow unofficially from private lenders at extremely high interest rates that pose a threat to their business activities," she added.

The latest figures indicate that Cambodia has 630,000 commercial account holders and about 670,000 clients of microfinance lending organisations, according to Tal Nay Im.

From January to October this year, commercial banks provided US$2.4 billion in loans, Tal Nay Im said, citing a report from the NBC.

However, the bulk of those loans are often for investing in corporate ventures.She acknowledged that lending places major burdens on borrowers, particularly owners of small and medium-sized businesses, who play a vital role in Cambodia's economy, by requiring collateral such as land or home titles.

" This is a major challenge for poor people, and small and medium-sized enterprises. "

"This is a major challenge for poor people, and small and medium-sized enterprises, but it is the only choice for borrowing money from the banking and finance sector," she said.

High interest a barrier

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann criticised Cambodia's lending institutions, accusing them of caring more about collateral than the financial health of borrowers or their ability to repay loans.

"In Cambodia, people can borrow money ... only if they have valuable assets, land or house titles," he said, adding that "they get loans of only about 10 percent to 20 percent of the value of their collateral".

He said the government should prohibit banks from requiring farmers to use their land as collateral and urged help for farmers looking to obtain credit.

"In developed countries, interest rates are very low ... and before lending money, the banks help people determine whether they or their business will be able to successfully repay the loan," Yim Sovann said.

Progress being made

But In Channy, president of ACLEDA Bank, told the Post last week that the figures cited by NBC were encouraging and showed the progress of Cambodia's banking sector.

He added that through November of this year, his bank had loaned $463 million to 227,354 customers, with annual interest rates between 15 percent and 24 percent, while maintaining an additional 401,810 depositors.

ACLEDA plans to increase its loans by a projected 50 percent in 2009, while seeing a 20 percent gain in depositors, In Channy said.

But even with total loans increasing, NGOs say the poor still have little or no access to inexpensive credit.

A November 2008 report by NGO Forum on Cambodia titled "Community Finance" said that loans from banks and MFIs are still too expensive and difficult to access for many Cambodians.

"Interest rates of MFI service providers for community credit loan[s] still remain high at five percent in rural areas.

"This ... denies the poorest and most vulnerable from access to loans," the report said.

The report, by Cambodia's largest NGO umbrella organisation, also said that the loan conditions, such as requirements for collateral, also were a barrier to social mobility.

Hoy Sophea, secretary general of the Cambodia Microfinance Association, told the Post Tuesday that through September of this year, MFIs loaned $260 million at interest rates of between 24 percent and 36 percent annually.

"Of course, these interest rates are high compared to developed countries, but if compared to neighbouring countries such as Vietnam and Laos, they are competitive," he said.

"Interest rates for MFIs are acceptable. If we were to compare them to unofficial lenders, their rates would be much cheaper," Hoy Sophea added.

Fixed Deposit Interest Rate (26 December 2008)

Name of Bank Interest Rate 3 Months 6 Months 12 Months
USD Riel USD Riel USD Riel
ACLEDA 5.50% 6.00% 6.50% 8.00% 7.50% 9.50%
ANZ Royal 4.55% 4.60% 5.25% 5.55% 5.40% 6.70%
Cambodia Asia Bank 5.50% N/A 6.50% N/A 7.50% N/A
Cambodia Comercial Bank 3.00% 3.00% 3.25% 3.25% 3.25% 3.25%
Cambodia Mekong Bank 2.50% N/A 3.25% N/A 3.50% N/A
Cambodia Public Bank 5.25% N/A 6.25% N/A 7.25% N/A
Canadia 5.00% 5.00% 6.00% 6.00% 7.00% 7.00%
May Bank 2.00% N/A 2.50% N/A 3.25% N/A
SBC Bank 3.00% N/A 3.50% N/A 4.50% N/A
Vattanac Bank 4.25% N/A 5.25% N/A 6.00% N/A