Sunday, 26 April 2009

The two faces of Siem Reap

The author Tingting Cojuangco at the Bayon Temple with Police Superintendent Wilson Soliba

A COMMITMENT By Tingting Cojuangco
Updated April 26, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – It was a Saturday and we decided to go to the anticipated Mass at the modest wooden edifice more like a house than a Catholic church in Siem Reap. The Catholic community whose patron saint is John the Apostle is composed of 300 souls and hears Mass in two Catholic churches while sitting on floor mats. One of the Catholic churches was once a karaoke bar on the floating village of Chong Kneas where 70 locals now attend the services. Appropriately, their patron saint is St. Peter the Fisherman.

Siem Reap possesses two faces. Dusty and rural yet cosmopolitan with 200 luxury hotels for Hollywood teams, backpacking tourists, old and young and leaders of different countries they all converge for national security strategies, traveling miles to see the Angkor Wat in Siem, western Cambodia. The temple ruins of Angkor date from the 9th to 13th century during the Khmer empire and rank among the world’s most magnificent architectural wonders in stone.

With the influx of tourists, shopping is inevitable. A discount beyond one half of the merchandise cost can be had. Haggling goes on like in any Oriental country amid laughter and cajoling, lessening the tension and adding to the persuasion.

The city is surrounded by quaintness. High ceilings in eateries, electric fans turning around and around lazily with few air-conditioners about, floor-to-ceiling louvered windows, open balconies, tiled floors with diamond and flower designs, palm trees in huge ceramic plant boxes. The gentle people are used to foreigners so that no one whistles at Europeans in short shorts, sandals or T-shirts that show off heavy or slight breasts. Or at European women alone at night acquiring the day’s losses at prices unbelievably cheap, or riding the tuk tuk in harem pants such as those on the wall carvings of Angkor.

I just fell in love with Siem Reap, so much so that my staff teased me about Siem being my former residence in some lifetime in the 12th century when Suryavarman II was king in his temple capital city. It’s lured me for years and has become an obsession.

Before a trip, I reach for a history book and a map. It’s the ideal way to understand the place and people’s characters. I know, for instance, that I can’t go to Burma straightaway without passing through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Neither could I go to Cambodia without passing China, Korea and Bangkok. That’s why airline tickets become expensive. In that group of countries huddled together, traveling is cheaper, convenient and swifter. In our case, we fly over islands detached from each other. One hour and we’re still over the Philippine islands.

Angkor Wat has enticed me for years. It didn’t seem like I drove my travel agent and her assistant, Maritess Palanca and Trina Avila of Regal Travel, nuts. How understanding and composed they were as I changed travel dates so many times.

Seeing an opening in my schedule, I decided to see the temples. The ones I saw were dedicated to the Hindu gods, one of them Vishnu. Through centuries, Angkor has signified Mt. Meru, home of Indian mythology. History classes taught me that he was the essence of all beings, the master of and beyond, and the creator and the destroyer. I saw him on bas-reliefs. The Angkor later honored Buddhism.

I recalled literature classes under Cynthia Rivera and how interesting she made the deities appear, disguised as snakes, monkeys and elephants. How I memorized and conjured in my head images of lounging royalty and fierce battles in the Mahabharata and Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita and then there was Vishnu again as Rama and Krishna with Brahma as the creator. Teachers can rouse the imagination and inspire or they can humiliate and discourage as well!

I had to acquire some form of memorabilia to bring home. It was elephant bone carved and polished to appear like tusks. I bought them for door handles. I needed and wanted a red thread on my wrist and it was placed by a Buddhist monk in a temple. You can get what you want if you put your heart to it.

The trips I just made to Cambodia enriched my prehistory collection with a few mementos to link the Philippines with Cambodia and our Asian neighbors. They are artifacts of the early Metal Age. I never thought I’d walk into an antiquity store with a sidewalk display of excavated glass, and gold and brass rings that excited me. Beautifully carved heavy jade were the same as the Lingling-O pendants still worn by our Ifugao tribes and split earrings were evidence of our Bronze Age settlements and that of Southeast Asia’s. I bought iron pellets with inscriptions like what I had bought years ago in Johor, Malaysia’s market.

And lo and behold, fashion lives in Siem Reap! I met Ricco Ocampo’s friends Loven Ramos, an independent PR and artist with Dawn who works at Hotel de la Paix. Both Loven and Dawn brought me to Eric Raisina, who devotes himself to developing Cambodian silk, weaving and dyeing it in his residence-shop. Another gown’s design is of raffia in flowerettes from Madagascar attached by crochet. His famous “silkfur” is executed by cutting out the silk in short strips and sown in rows and rows to make jackets look like fur. It’s become a sought-after design in Parisian fashion houses.

The exhibit at Raffles Hotel of Buddha intrigued me with its hand gestures. The Meditation Buddha’s hands are resting together on the lap, a position assumed by the Buddha when meditating under the pipal tree, and adopted since time immemorial by yogis.

We became younger again in Siem just walking and eating and listening to our guide Sok’s historical anecdotes while driving away insistent children selling magazines, slippers, soft drinks and T-shirts.

It is a charming place, even if your blush-on comes off from the heat, even if the machine for credit cards takes a while to work, even if dollars are favored over riel so that you regret changing your American cash to local money, and even if your feet begin to toast in the heat.

The Royal Government Adopts the Draft of a Policy about the Development of Ethnic Minority Tribespeople - 25 April 2009

Posted on 26 April 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 609

“Phnom Penh: The Royal Government adopted a draft for a policy about the development of ethnic minority tribespeople in an attempt to promote their knowledge and skills, in order to enhance their capacity, and to promote their living standard through sustainable development which completely depends on the use of natural resources.

“During the meeting of the Council of Ministers in the morning of 26 April 2009 under the presidency of the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Samdech Akkak Moha Senapadei Dekchor Hun Sen, the draft of a policy about the development of ethnic minority tribespeople, drafted by the Ministry of Rural Development with assistance from the United Nations Development Program, from development partners, and from some other relevant institutions, was adopted in order to contribute to maintain, protect, and conserve the cultures, traditions, beliefs, customs, and languages of ethnic minority tribespeople living in Cambodia.

“During that meeting, also another draft for the registration of land and the rights of land use of the ethnic minority tribespeople’s communities in the Kingdom of Cambodia was adopted, to present perspectives, intentions, and legal requirements for the registration of land by the ethic minority tribespeople’s communities, land that can be registered as collective property, with collective rights of use, and control of the land by ethnic minority tribespeople.

“At the end of the meeting, a draft decree about procedures for the registration of ethnic minority tribespeople’s land, aiming to define principles, mechanisms, and procedures for the registration of ethnic minority tribespeople’s land as collective property was adopted. As for the rights to use and to control the land, the communities are eligible to have collective property, as recognized by the law, such as right of inheritance, the right to use, and the right to exploit, but all collective property cannot be sold or transferred to any person who is a member of the community, except if any member of a community leaves that community.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4877, 25.4.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Saturday, 25 April 2009

Dido believes attack best defence against Cambodia

Sat, Apr 25th, 2009

Dhaka, April 25 ( – Bangladesh will look to be positive from the word go when they take on Cambodia in their AFC Challenge Cup qualifier at the Bangabandhu National Stadium on Sunday.

The match will start at 6:00pm with state-run Bangladesh Television telecasting the game live from the venue.

"The target is to play the game forward to win against Cambodia and you know attack is the best defence and we will certainly adopt this approach," said Bangladesh's Brazilian coach Edson Silva Dido at a pre-match conference at Hotel Sonargaon on Saturday.

But Dido's main concern is over his ace strike pair Jahid Hasan Emily and Mohammad Robin, who have just recovered from their injuries, and may have to miss the match and he have to rely on new pair Enamul Haq and Mithun Chowdhury.

"Yes, I have only a problem in the striking zone but I think others are quite prepared to negotiate the challenges of the opponents," said Dido. "It is our bad luck with the injuries three players (Emily, Robin, Jahid) and I may not be able to do what I am supposed to do."

Dido informed that the trio were only cleared on Saturday for the game but he was not sure whether any of them was going to be in the starting eleven.

"I can't tell you who are going to be picked for tomorrow's match but like you, we are also expecting them in the match."

Robin has the best chance playing against Cambodia while the lack of practice will probably keep Emily and Jahid out of the game.

Bangladesh are yet to lose against Cambodia in their two previous meetings. They beat Cambodia 2-1 in the inaugural AFC Challenge Cup at home in 2006 and played a 1-1 draw in the 2007 Nehru Cup after conceding a last gasp goal.

"I last saw them when I coached Vietnam but now I know nothing about Cambodia and knowing nothing about the opponents may be an advantage for us," said a confident Dido, who, however, was not satisfied with a three-week preparation for the tournament.

Whatever the results are in the AFC Challenge Cup, Dido suggested that all should stick to the Bangladesh team, which is going to be a fine team.

Captain-cum-goalkeeper Aminul Haq, however, was confident to qualify for the finals.

"We take all three matches as quarter-finals, semi-finals and final and we have no option but to win all three matches for qualifying for the final round and the players are ready to take the challenge."

Cambodia, on the other hand, also set their sights on the finals after winning all three matches.

"We are here to win against Bangladesh as well as against Myanmar and Macao and wins against all of them will take us to the finals if we don't squander the opportunities," said Cambodian coach Tep Long Sovannara at the briefing.

Before coming here, Cambodia had a three-week intensive camp and their players were involved in the Prime Minister Cup back at home.

Cambodia had also played four practice matches in Vietnam where they won one, lost one and drew two matches.

The coach said that they were 70 percent confident to win against Bangladesh and the scorching heat would not affect them. hours

Facing Cambodia's past. Or not.

How is the Khmer Rouge Tribunal playing in the quiet corners of Cambodia?

By Karen J. Coates - Special to GlobalPost

Published: April 25, 2009

APHNOM PENH — The executioner has a new routine. Trailed by guards, he assumes a seat inside the cool, cavernous chambers of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. He faces his judges with the public at his back. A thick glass wall separates the frail, aged man from an audience mostly too young to remember what is commonly called Pol Pot Time. Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, stands when called to speak.

“Please leave an open window for me to seek forgiveness,” he tells the court. “Now I am very regretful and very shameful.”

At least 12,000 prisoners died while Duch oversaw the infamous Tuol Sleng torture prison during the 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge regime. In those years, the country lost a quarter of its population to murder, disease, overwork and starvation. For the next three months in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Duch will confront what he did.

The world has waited three decades to hear Duch speak — yet remarkably few Cambodians say they are following his trial. “Most people don’t care because they’re busy with their life,” says Ly Bun Hai, a police officer in a fishing village near the ancient Angkor temples.

It’s a common sentiment. This is a country largely populated by farmers and fishermen, many of whom linger near the poverty line; tomorrow’s dinner takes precedence, as it has for more than 30 years. Yet a few Cambodians are urging their compatriots to stare hard and straight into the past — lest history repeat itself.

Nearly 70 percent of Cambodians were born after the Khmer Rouge regime, and many know little or nothing about those years. Khmer Rouge history is not generally taught in Cambodian schools.

A 71-year-old rice farmer named Nga says she recounts stories of Pol Pot Time so that youngsters understand their past. “Sometimes I tell the children, the young generation, about the food we grew behind our house but the Khmer Rouge did not allow us to eat,” she says.

“Today is different, it’s getting better. We have cars, motorbikes, fields to grow food. But some families are still poor, not enough food to eat.”

The battle for daily survival is an ancient thread that binds Cambodians through ages of war and peace.

“I fought the Khmer Rouge,” says a 46-year-old veteran named Sok Samat. He recalls the front lines of a civil war that lasted 19 years beyond the 1970s regime. “I think, when I go to fight the Khmer Rouge, I must shoot. If I don’t shoot, the Khmer Rouge will shoot me. I shot a lot.” These are tough memories for Sok Samat, but he says, “I had to do it to protect the country.”

These days, Sok Samat centers his thoughts on immediate needs of a far different nature. “I think only about being a motor-taxi driver and supporting my family.” In principle, he’s happy about the Tribunal, but he wants “all the people connected to the Khmer Rouge to face trial.”

So far there are five defendants. Does he think his wish is feasible? “Maybe not.”

As court proceedings progress, Chan Soratha, a young college student majoring in journalism, is writing his university thesis. He attempted to survey hundreds of high school teachers about their knowledge of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal — basic questions about the name of the court, the number of former Khmer Rouge in detention, their names, their dates of arrest and the sources from which participants get their information.

“Most lecturers, they refused to answer my questions,” Soratha says, adding that they claimed lack of time, knowledge or desire to respond.

But some teachers told Chan Soratha they envied Duch and his comrades, in a way. Those facing trial received good food, clean bathrooms and decent living quarters “while the victims just stay outside on the street,” they said.

These teachers told Chan Soratha that perhaps society could repeat a Khmer Rouge-style revolution and “have better conditions than those living in the countryside.” Even if the perpetrators are caught, the consequences do not constitute “a punishment.”

Chan Soratha is still analyzing his survey, but the results so far provoke grave thoughts. He grew up hearing the stories of his mother, who lost her father and several siblings during Pol Pot Time, and he chokes when confronted with questions about family history. He never wants to see a repeat of that era, but he says many young Cambodians don’t understand the Khmer Rouge. And if people don’t understand the past, they can’t prevent its recurrence. “Everything happens again and again,” he says philosophically.

This is precisely why the Venerable Muny Van Saveth, a monk and orphanage director across the country at Wat Norea in Battambang, says it is crucial for Cambodia’s children to learn about human rights. “Because we don’t want the second Khmer Rouge.”

Can that really happen again?

Many say no. But not all. “If the people are not educated, if they don’t have human rights, if they don’t have money — yeah, maybe,” says Muny Van Saveth. The Khmer Rouge movement began with a segment of the population that was angry at society’s powerbrokers and money-holders.

Duch has told the tribunal that a pivotal Khmer Rouge policy was “smashing the oppressor class.” Today, Cambodian society is again divided between those with power and money — and those without. “They don’t have the food, they don’t have the land,” the monk Muny Van Saveth says.

"Maybe they are angry.” Again.

Petition to the United States President, Barack Obama‏

April 23, 2009

Dear Cambodian brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, grandpas and grandmas:

I hope by now you have heard of the tragic story of Venerable Tim Sakhorn who is a courageous and humble Khmer Krom monk in Phnom Den, Karivong district, Takeo province, Cambodia.

He was kidnapped, defrocked, and disappeared in Phnom Penh in 2007, with some reports stating that he was crammed into a Toyota by unidentified assailants. He had resurfaced a few days later in Vietnam.

There, he was immediately charged with violating and endangering the security of Vietnam, using the 1979 so-called Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation imposed under duress by Vietnam during its invasion of Cambodia in 1979, as the excuse. He was tried and quickly convicted as charged by a Vietnamese court, put under house arrest in Vietnam for nearly two years, stripped of his Cambodian identity and declared that he is a Vietnamese. Only under the pressure from the European Union and the Human Rights Watch - Asia (HRW), was he recently allowed to temporary return to visit his family in Cambodia, under a Vietnamese passport with a visa that is only valid until April 17, 2009.

Considering his tremendous personal sacrifice by enduring the physical and psychological pain, along with an uncommon courage and dignity in the face of murderous, determined, and unrelenting enemies during all his adult life, in Vietnam and later on in Cambodia, the Venerable Tim Sakhorn who has just escaped to Thailand, is, by definition and through the examples of other great heroes in history, a true Cambodia hero. He deserves our admiration and respect for what he has been trying to do to defend Cambodia and her people against the unrelenting and murderous onslaught by the Vietnamese government within a well-designed and executed plan to complete the final phase of the Vietnamization of Cambodia known as “Southward March” or “Nam Tien” in Vietnamese.

However, a more ominous message behind the recent atrocities committed by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) on the brave Ven. Sakhorn represents a strong warning to all Cambodians that SRV will not tolerate any protest, however benign it may be against Vietnam by Cambodian, under the so-called Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation that was imposed on Cambodia when Vietnam invaded in 1978. More deadly and more dangerously, is the fact that Vietnam has unilaterally reserved the right to intervene militarily by invading Cambodia once again, should Hun Sen’s absolute rule is under any real threat of being toppled by the opposition parties. One can also infer that Hun Sen has been allowing the opposition parties to be operating, so long as the latter are not operationally effective. Unless we, Cambodian-Americans, who are living in complete freedom in this country, will act more vigorously and soon, the fate of the Cambodian people will be in jeopardy.

Based on the above observations, dear fellow-Cambodians, let us show our courage and civic duty as dignified and honorable human beings by joining hands to sign this proposed petition to the United States President Barack Obama to ask him to investigate the Vietnamization of Cambodia once again, and if the information that we have provided turn out to be true and accurate, we respectfully request him to use his presidential authorities to ask the Vietnamese and the Hun Sen regimes to stop committing atrocities against all Cambodians in Cambodia or in South Vietnam or Kampuchea Krom.

I strongly hope you still remember that in mid November 2005, we sent a petition to President George W. Bush to ask him to look into the same Vietnamization of Cambodia by sending unverifiable number of illegal immigrant into Cambodia with the support of Hun Sen and his CPP, in order to complete the Ho Chi Minh’s dream of transforming the former French Indochina Federation into the “greater Vietnam”.

Former President Bush did not listen to us much and chose to make Vietnam the main ally of the US in Asia. This time with the election of President Obama along with his message of CHANGE in the United States and in the world, it will be a totally different situation. His message of YES WE CAN is loud and clear and it’s time for all of us who believe in dignity, honor, and freedom, to do all we can so that our voice will be heard by the new president of the United States of America. We can all stand to benefit from this new era of hope. We believe President Obama is a once in a life time true reformer and defender of freedom for America and for the rest of the world as well.

Let us spread the words by saying YES WE CAN to stop the Vietnamization of Cambodia through President Obama who is prone and proven to be a true democratic leader in the world. YES WE CAN if we are heard by him, and with supports from many international NGO’s and human rights organizations such as European Union Parliamentarian, Asia Human Rights Watch under the leadership of Brad Adams, Christophe Peschoux, country representative of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and a German Human Rights Advocate, Rebecca Sommer. The world seems to finally hear and listen to our Khmer Krom people’s voice. The world has finally paid attention. Let us bring our case to them and made our historical day, the history of our own writing and not the Vietnamese’s.

My dearest friends once again, look hard into our country of birth Cambodia from “Family Tree” report to “Cambodia for Sale” and from prostitution every where in the country to poor children along the waste centers, from the golf course along the Cambodia/Vietnam borders to the rice fields for rent to the Vietnamese along the borders, from the national oil resource to the national touristic center of Angkor Wat, etc... Over 60% of everything belongs to the Vietnamese, mainly through majority ownership and control of the most important corporation in Cambodia, SOKIMEX, led by Sok Kong, a self-confessed Vietnamese citizen. The Vietnamese are now in full control of the destiny of Cambodia and her people, and the Cambodia government under Hun Sen and his CPP. The Venerable Tim Sakhorn’s case is a clear example of what we, Cambodians, should be doing if we want to have any chance to remain free and retain our national identity as Khmer people.

Please, fellow-Cambodians, help us spread this urgent message by signing this petition and return it to us as early as possible. This is such a unique opportunity for all decent Cambodians to get support from the most important leaders of the countries in the world who are now well-informed on the atrocities committed by the SRV.

From the land of the free and from every corner of the world including in Cambodia proper and in Kampuchea Krom, you can start now by signing this petition by going to the following website,, making sure to write the word Khmer with K in capital letter.

We need some of you to volunteer as leaders to go around the communities to collect signatures (especially from those who do not have access to the internet) as many as you possibly can and send hard copies of those signatures to the following address:

6107 SW Murray BLVD. # 537
Beaverton, OR 97008

Warmest regards,
Friends of Cambodia

Contact persons:
Naranhkiri Tith, Ph.D. (202) 466-3376
Kal Man (503) 641-6310
Veronica Ngi
Saron Khut

Petition deadline: May 15, 2009

Religious Day at Wat Sorya Pormeas pagoda, Moukkampoul district, Kandal province

A Cambodian boy and his mother walk as the boy holds a monk cloth for his being ordain at Wat Sorya Pormeas pagoda, Moukkampoul district, Kandal province, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, April 25, 2009.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Buddhist monks save people heads for their being ordain at Wat Sorya Pormeas pagoda, Moukkampoul district, Kandal province, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, April 25, 2009.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)