Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Man tells of escape from pit of death

July 08, 2009

PHNOM PENH: A survivor of a Khmer Rouge torture prison told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal yesterday that he had escaped death by crawling out of a pit of corpses and floating down a river on a plank.

Phork Khan, 57, said guards had pushed him into a mass grave on a site he believed was the Choeng Ek "killing field", on Phnom Penh's outskirts.

"I was put at the edge of the pit and I knew it would be my last day," he said. "At about 2am I regained consciousness. My hands were tied, but I tried to move, crawling on top of the corpses."

Testifying at the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, the former chief of the S-21 torture facility, Phork said he had climbed on to a piece of wood floating in the nearby Tonle Sap River and had let the current carry him into the centre of Phnom Penh.

The judges said his claims were in "stark contrast" to the complaint he had filed with the court. When they asked how he had known that the execution site was Choeng Ek, Phork said he had became aware of the killing field's name on a recent visit to S-21, which is now a museum. - Sapa-DPA

HBO airs story of Cambodian photographer who turned a blind eye to Khmer Rouge genocide

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum/HBO
Nhem En worked in a Khmer Rouge death camp.

THE CONSCIENCE OF NHEM EN

Wednesday night at 8, HBO

It doesn't take long to explore the conscience of Nhem En.

He doesn't seem to have one.

This chilling documentary, which was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year, takes the viewer on a tour of the infamous 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. It's only a half-hour long, but feels as if it goes on for hours because the content is so grim, the sheer inhumanity so difficult to comprehend.

Filmmaker Steven Okazaki focuses on S-21, a high school that was converted into a prison that was really an execution chamber.

Over the four years of the Pol Pot regime, some 1.7 million Cambodians were slaughtered. At S-21, which today is open to the public as a memorial, 17,000 people were processed in. Eight survived.

Prisoners, who included everyone from infants to grandparents, were brought in and tortured until they confessed they were either CIA or KGB operatives - even though many did not know what the CIA or KGB were. They were then further tortured until they "named" at least one other person who was also a CIA or KGB operative.

Then they were executed.

Nhem En, who was 16, was the house photographer. As each prisoner was brought in, he took their picture - a classic mug shot, the prisoner staring into the camera. He estimates he photographed 6,000 prisoners, knowing that all were about to die.

"Conscience" includes other interviews, including two with survivors who recount the deprivation, torture and massacre of their families. One Khmer Rouge soldier is interviewed and says he knew nothing, did nothing, has nothing to say.

But Nhem En is the centerpiece. He is sorry people died, he says, but he had nothing to do with it, didn't even hear it, it happened in another room.

He's not sorry for his role, he says, because he did what was necessary to keep himself alive.

In fact, he says, "The world should thank me" for his work, because without his pictures, no one would remember these people.

It's a surreal moment. But Nhem En is facing, and sidestepping, the question that soldiers on the losing side have faced in almost every war back to the dawn of recorded history.

How could you do it, they are asked, and their replies are often some variation of the one here: Had I not done it, I would have been killed and they would have brought in someone else to do it.

Does the fact that Nhem En is right make his actions right?

"Conscience of Nhem En" starts off chilling and ends up haunting.

NKorean defectors train to adjust to life in South

Women who defected from North Korea, walk for their class at the Hanawon, a state-run official shelter for North Korean defectors in Ansung, south of Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, July 8, 2009. The shelter is for North Korean defectors who have come to South Korea, mostly via third party countries such as China.
(AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)


By KWANG-TAE KIM, Associated Press Writer Kwang-tae Kim, Associated Press Writer

ANSEONG, South Korea – Dressed in white or yellow T-shirts and black slacks, the dozens of people at Wednesday's ceremony looked like typical South Korean company trainees. But the high security at the fenced compound hinted at a different kind of induction.

They are North Korean defectors learning a new way of life in a capitalist society.

They have flooded to South Korea in recent years to escape hunger and harsh political oppression in their communist homeland. Hanawon, located in the farming village Anseong, is the government facility where they go through a three-month course in basic knowledge to live in the South, such as computer skills and how to shop in supermarkets.

Hanawon marked its 10th anniversary Wednesday.

"I'm worried about finding a job, but I can live well" in South Korea, one defector, identified only by her family name Lim, told reporters on a government-run tour.

Reporters were asked not to use the full names of defectors at the facility, citing security concerns for their families in the North.

Hanawon, 48 miles (77 kilometers) south of the capital Seoul, has expanded as the flow of asylum seekers has picked up.

More than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the Korean War ended in 1953, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles South Korea's relations with the North.

Most, however, have arrived in recent years as living conditions in the North have deteriorated. Annual arrivals have reached more than 3,000, according to the Unification Ministry.

Activists claim tens of thousands of North Koreans are living in hiding in China, through which many take a long and risky land journey to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries on their way to eventual asylum in South Korea.

In a speech at Hanawon to mark its anniversary, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek vowed that South Korea "will make utmost efforts to protect the human rights of North Korean defectors who stay in foreign countries."

South Korea has said it would accept any North Korean who wants to resettle, but is concerned that the rapid increase in arrivals could strain inter-Korean ties and complicate international efforts to resolve the issue of the North's nuclear weapons program.

Relations between the two Koreas have frayed badly since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year with a pledge to get tough on the North and its nuclear ambitions. North Korea responded by severing most ties and suspending key joint projects.

North Korea further raised tensions with its May nuclear test and last week's missile launches in defiance of new U.N. sanctions.

Hyun called for efforts to embrace North Korean defectors, calling their successful resettlement a "litmus test" for whether South Korea is moving toward becoming an advanced country.

Hanawon, established in 1999, is capable of hosting 750 people at a time and has also a branch in a town north of Seoul, according to the ministry. Hyun said South Korea also plans to set up another facility, beginning next year. He did not elaborate.

Besides the course on assimilation, North Korean defectors also get financial aid, including housing and job training.

South Korea provides 19 million won ($14,900) to a North Korean defector as one-time settlement aid and offers an additional 15 million won if the defector works in a company for three years — an incentive designed to help defectors stand on their own.

"The moves have motivated defectors to find jobs," said Lee Keum-soon, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-run think tank.

Despite the training, some defectors are believed to be living below the poverty line because they cannot get decent jobs. That's due mainly to a lack of education and widespread prejudice among South Koreans, who view those from the North's socialist system as lazy.

"The programs I went through were not much help once I entered South Korean society and they didn't match the reality," a North Korean defector who came to the South in 2003 told The Associated Press. He asked not to be named, citing the issue's sensitivity.

Khmer Rouge fighter relates "killing fields" horror

Tourists visit the Tuol Sleng genocide museum in Phnom Penh in 2008. A Cambodian man told the Khmer Rouge war crimes court Tuesday that he escaped a notorious "killing field" despite being knocked into a pit full of corpses after surviving the regime's main jail.
(AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)


PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – A former fighter for the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s told a Cambodian court Wednesday how he was suspected of turning against the Pol Pot regime, arrested and beaten unconscious, waking up beneath bodies in a burial pit.

Phork Khan, 57, was testifying at the trial of Duch, head of the Khmer Rouge's S-21 interrogation center in Phnom Penh, who faces life in prison if convicted on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and homicide.

Duch has admitted his part in the thousands of deaths at the prison but says he was only following orders. He has also questioned the reliability of some of the witnesses.

Phork Khan said he had become a fighter in 1971. "In Phnom Penh, in 1975, I took part in the liberation," he said. "At first I was quite happy, but after seeing the forced evacuation of the people and spraying of bullets to kill people by Khmer Rouge soldiers, I wasn't satisfied with that change in the situation."

As the regime purged suspected dissenters, he was arrested in 1978 and detained at S-21. "They tied up my legs and hands and put me face down. I was whipped and I could not move freely. I could barely stand the agony," he said.

One day, guards took him to the edge of a pit at the Choeung Ek "killing fields" near Phnom Penh.

"I did not know how many other prisoners were killed after I became unconscious. Only after I regained consciousness, I saw three dead bodies on top of me," he told the tribunal.

TESTIMONY QUESTIONED

More than 14,000 people died at the S-21 prison. Eight people have now provided testimony of their detainment, although Duch has questioned whether all of them really spent time there, and one of the judges has raised some doubts.

Judge Nil Nonn noted Tuesday that Phork Khan had failed to mention his horrific live burial in his pre-trial statement.

Tuesday, another survivor, Lay Chan, said he had been detained at S-21 for two months in 1976 and interrogated twice before his release. Duch responded that nobody was released from S-21 and Lay could therefore not have been held there.

Last week the court heard from two S-21 prisoners who said they had been spared because they were artists and Duch admired their portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

Wednesday the court heard from a female survivor, Chin Meth, 51, who described a routine of forced labor followed by beatings during a 15-day stay at S-21 in 1977.

However, Duch queried her recollection, too, although he said she could have been detained and interrogated elsewhere.

"The fact is that if she was transferred to S-21, she would be dead. She could not be let out," Duch told the judges. "If people were transferred to S-21, they would be smashed."

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, is the first of five detained Khmer Rouge leaders to face trial."Brother Number One" Pol Pot, whose regime fell after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, died in 1998 near the Thai-Cambodia border.

(Reporting by Stephen Kurczy, Editing by Alan Raybould)

Axiata eyes Millicom's Lanka, Cambodia assets -sources

Reuters - Wednesday, July 8

* Axiata may bid for Millicom assets in Cambodia, Sri Lanka

* Assets worth at least $500 million - sources

* Funding a concern for Axiata - analysts

By Saeed Azhar and Julie Goh

SINGAPORE/KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 - Malaysian telecom firm Axiata has expressed interest in buying the Sri Lankan and Cambodian assets of Luxembourg-based telecom operator Millicom worth at least $500 million, sources with direct knowledge of the deal told Reuters.

Axiata, which raised $1.47 billion from shareholders in April to reduce debt and fund its overseas operations, has said its strategy is to pursue consolidation in countries where it has operations rather than expanding into new markets.

The firm, Malaysia's second-biggest mobile phone operator, is among a number of bidders that have expressed interest in buying the Asian assets of Millicom, one of the sources said on Wednesday.

JPMorgan is advising Axiata on the Sri Lankan assets and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch on the Cambodian assets, a second source said. Both the assets could be worth at least $500 million, the sources said. The sources declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch and Axiata declined comment. A spokeswoman from Axiata said the company would make an announcement if "any corporate action is made."

Millicom said last week it had appointed Goldman Sachs to advise it on a strategic review of its Asian business and several potential investors were eyeing the assets. [ID:nL2531588]

Millicom's Asian assets include Celltel in Sri Lanka and Mobitel in Cambodia, countries where Axiata already has a presence and where the Malaysian firm sees room for consolidation, another source familiar with the deal said.

Celltel has a 15 percent market share and ranks third among four operators in Sri Lanka, while Mobitel has a 67 percent market share, making it the leader in Cambodia.

Millicom's Asian business saw revenues rise 7 percent to $68 million in the first quarter, while earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amortization fell 3 percent to $25 million due to competition.

A QUESTION OF FUNDING

Axiata's 70 percent-owned Dialog Telekom is the number one operator in Sri Lanka, and its 100 percent-owned Telekom Malaysia International Co Ltd is the smallest operator in Cambodia.

A year ago it bought a 15 percent stake in Idea Cellular , India's fifth-largest mobile operator, for about $1.5 billion.

Analysts in Malaysia said while market consolidations in Sri Lanka and Cambodia would be beneficial by reducing the number of operators, funding could be a problem for the Malaysian firm, 45-percent owned by state investor Khazanah Nasional.

"Our perennial concern with Axiata is its weak balance sheet, where net gearing currently stands at 150 percent," said Clare Chin, analyst at CLSA in Kuala Lumpur.

On top of that, the company has committed to recapitalise its 83.8 percent-owned Indonesian unit Excelcomindo , which could cost it as much as $505.5 million.

"We believe Axiata will need to gear up in order to fund these acquisitions ... if the acquisitions materialise, this could potentially raise funding and gearing concerns for Axiata once again," said David Chong, analyst at RHB Research Institute.

Axiata shares have underperformed this year, down 0.62 percent compared with the 21.2percent gain in the broader market index <.KLSE>.

Detained in S-21 or elsewhere: doubt over the testimonies of other survivors

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 16/02/2009: The statement made by civil party Phork Khan before the court differed from that he had previously made in writing. “The truth is what I told you orally.”
©John Vink/ Magnum (file picture)

Ka-set
http://cambodia.ka-set.info

By Stéphanie Gée
08-07-2009

The hearing on Tuesday July 7th echoed that of the previous day. S-21 survivors who were until then unknown succeeded at the stand and gave testimonies that did not always tally the written statements they made in their civil party applications or the way they told their stories to journalists. In addition, they gave details that did not match what is known to this day of the infamous detention centre and, as the defence did not fail to point out, there did not seem to be any record of their stay in S-21. One believed them to be sincere when they told the sufferings they endured, but the doubt was there: were they actually detained in S-21 or in another prison? The embarrassing doubt may discredit their testimonies, but also those of indisputable survivors heard last week, prompting some to wonder about the groundwork that should have been done by their lawyers.

Not much in the file
Like on the previous day, the defence indicated from the outset they expressed doubts over the fact that the forthcoming witness was detained in S-21. Lay Chan, 55 years old, was a farmer who joined the revolutionary forces before 1975 and became a messenger for them. During 1976, he was arrested and imprisoned for some three months at S-21, he said, accused of participating to a “theft of rice for the enemy.” During his stay in what he believed to be the prison directed by the accused, the guards asked him to dig, outside and at night, holes for the planting of banana trees, as he was then explained. Blindfolded most of the time, all he saw was his airless individual cell that smelled of unimaginable stench, in which he could not stand because the ceiling was so low, he explained.

“Were you able to learn the name of your place of detention?”, president Nil Nonn asked him. “I didn’t know it at first. But one day, I overheard a conversation between two guards who said it was Tuol Sleng school. […] That’s how I was able to find out,” the witness, who joined as a civil party, answered. He only returned once to the premises since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. “The place had already been changed. It did not quite look like what it used to be anymore,” he commented.

He was interrogated twice and severely beaten twice, until losing consciousness. Abuses he still suffered from to this day, he said – in particular, he lost the use of his left ear. After three months, he was boarded on a vehicle that dropped him on the street in Phnom Penh, where he was picked up by a moto that took him to a place where he was re-educated through work for a year, assigned to the gathering of firewood. Then, he said, he was reinstated in his unit and put to work in the kitchen garden.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 07/07/2009: Civil party Lay Chan described with emotion and in detail the terrible detention conditions at “Tuol Sleng school.” But according to Kar Savuth, co-lawyer for Duch, there “may be a confusion between two prisons”
©Stéphanie Gée


Going through Lay Chan’s file, the president observed “there was not much” in terms of documents to support the civil party’s request for reparations. His lawyers, in charge of civil party group 3, intervened: “We were unable to find other documents, but we will ask him questions that will help shed light on his case,” they promised.

From the written testimony to the oral testimony
Judge Thou Mony: “What were the exact words used by the two guards whose conversation you overheard when they talked about the Tuol Sleng school or prison?” “Tuol Sleng school,” Lay Chan stated emphatically. “Apart from that discussion, did other sources allow you to state that you actually were in S-21?” “I was able to observe it was a detention centre because I would hear the cries and sobs of several people, even if I could not see them,” the witness answered. “During the three months you were detained, did you see other prisoners?” “During that time, I did not have the right to move freely or to come closer to other detainees.”

The president followed with other questions and unexpectedly asked if the witness heard a generator working during tough interrogation sessions. Lay Chan had heard a noise but did not know whether it was a car engine or a generator. “In your complaint, you said a generator was plugged in so as to cover the cries of people being tortured. That is what’s written in your civil party application. That is why I am asking you this question.”

The prosecution – who offered yet another international face in the courtroom, Anees Ahmed – asked the witness if he knew the city of Phnom Penh before his arrest. “Not very well,” Lay Chan confessed.

Interrogated by one of his lawyers, Kim Mengkhy, he stressed he had never shared his suffering with his relatives, not even to this day. When another lawyer asked him about food rations – “it made me think of food for animals” – and how he was able to survive if he had no access to water, the witness suddenly broke down. He lifted his hands to his face as if to hold back his tears. Pulling himself together with courage, he replied: “When I was thirsty, I did not dare to ask for water. So, when I had to relieve myself, I would drink my own urine.”

Duch: “Nothing proves he was detained in S-21”
The accused was invited to make a few observations. Sitting straight behind his desk, Duch declared he did not know “how [Lay Chan] could have been released [from S-21]. I had received the order to smash all the prisoners under my control.” He added he had not found the civil party’s name in the list of S-21 detainees and hammered, like for the previous day witness, a “there is nothing proving me that he was detained in S-21.”

Tuol Sleng or S-21?
His Cambodian lawyer, Kar Savuth, returned to the words “Tuol Sleng school” that the witness allegedly heard from young guards. “Back then, under the Khmer Rouge, the place was known under the codename S-21 and it was not referred to in any other way. […] How could the guards have talked about Tuol Sleng prison amongst themselves?” Lay Chan maintained his statement. He was sure of what he heard.

Confusion between two prisons for the defence
Kar Savuth reviewed the witness’ description of the cell: one-meter wide and a very low cement ceiling. “Maybe you confused S-21 with another place, because in S-21, the cells were small indeed, but the ceilings were rather high. The individual cells were built in classrooms and were as high as the classroom. As much as you would have jumped, your head could not have touched the ceiling,” the lawyer remarked, rather awkwardly. Lay Chan maintained his claim. Kar Savuth insisted: “I think there may be a confusion between two prisons because there were many detention centres under the Khmer Rouge.”

“I carry tangible evidence on my body”
The lawyer attempted to assert his point of view. “Do you have evidence of your detention in S-21 and your release from S-21? Because anyone who entered S-21 had to write a biography and none of them could be released. Duch did say he acknowledged the sufferings you endured because of torture. But you are telling us you were not photographed and you were interrogated twice, while there is no report in the S-21 archives. How could you support your claim that you were detained in S-21…?” The witness answered: “I do not have any documents. I have no access to documents. But I carry tangible evidence on my body. I have a scar on my left ankle which is a permanent document that will not vanish.”

“I am not questioning in any way that you suffered under the Khmer Rouge,” the lawyer specified. “But the questions I am asking you aim to ascertain whether you may have made a mistake between S-21 and your effective place of detention. All the more so since you were blindfolded and barely had a chance to see anything. […] You did not have a visual knowledge of S-21. You say that your scars are the material evidence of your sufferings. I fully accept that, but to say conclusively that you were therefore detained in S-21, that may be going too far.”

The witness was thanked. Another took his seat in the early afternoon.

A survivor from Choeung Ek
He was Phork Khan, 57 years old, a Khmer Rouge soldier since before 1975 – when he participated to the liberation and evacuation of Phnom Penh –, who started by evoking the fate of his wife and a cousin, “sent” to S-21 and whom he never saw again. He explained he had found the latter’s biography in Tuol Sleng, but not that of his wife. In 1978, he was arrested, although he had always “done his best for the Angkar” and ended up in a place he later found was S-21, where he was interrogated and whipped. He heard about “Brother of the East” (Duch), whose arrival in the interrogation room was announced by his torturers “Hor and Seng” during his first interrogation. “I did not know who he was. I was always lying face against the floor and the person came in and sat on a chair. I was interrogated for a long time. […] Brother of the East still remained sitting 15 to 20 minutes in the room, muttered a ‘hum’ and then left.” His detention lasted “maybe three to four months.”

One day – the witness could no longer remember exactly when –, he and other prisoners were “hurled like pigs” into a truck for an unknown destination. After a one-hour journey, they were put in a wooden house from which they disappeared the one after the other. One of the very last to go, he thought his final hour had come. Blindfolded and tied with a rope around their neck, they were pushed to the edge of a pit. By leaning forward, Phork Khan dodged the blow that was aimed at his nape and instead struck his ribs. He fell into the pit and was quickly covered up by the bodies of other prisoners hit in their turn. “I remained unconscious all night long.” When he came to life, he felt weakened and disoriented. He managed to heave himself out of the pit and later to get rid of the ties on his wrists. He heard detonations coming from Monivong bridge, which was why he “assumed it was January 6th 1979.” “I did not know then that I was in Choeung Ek,” the field on the outskirts of Phnom Penh where S-21 detainees were executed. With considerable effort, he reached the river and clung to a wooden plank to be carried by the current until Chroy Changvar bridge. Later, he met Vietnamese and Cambodian soldiers, who entrusted him to a man “who had a boat” and took care of him until he was healed. He told his story in one breath, for more than thirty minutes, his eyes lowered, stony-faced, and making only rare gestures.

“Can you enlighten us?”
President Nil Nonn returned to Phork Khan’s escape. Which river was it? “I think it was the Tonle Sap.” “Why did you not escape by the road? The river was dangerous because it was the time when the water overflows from the Tonle Sap. During the dry season, the water goes in the opposite direction. How did you manage to float against the current?” Phork Khan answered he did not swim but floated on a piece of wood, “which took two or three days.”

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 07/07/2009: President Nil Nonn noted the inconsistencies between the written and oral statements made by Phork Khan
©Stéphanie Gée

Nil Nonn pursued. “In your complaint, you describe the facts by saying that in ‘October 1978, Mr. Kang Guek Eav, alias Duch, ordered his soldiers to interrogate me. I was unable to walk, so they transported me in a hammock so I could meet him.’ Did that incident happen? You did not mention any of this in your oral testimony…” “Many years have passed. There may be some confusion or mistake,” the witness conceded. “[…] I do not remember the hammock scene and being transported in a hammock.”

The judge noted that in the complaint, the witness had also written that Duch had asked him if he wanted to die in the same way as his wife. “You describe that in your request relative to the civil party application. So, are these facts true or not?” “As far as I can recall, they are not,” Phork Khan answered, before later remembering that those were actually words spoken by his interrogators.

Nil Nonn continued to read from the report on the facts made by the witness. “‘In November 1978, the situation was marked with confusion. One evening, Duch ordered all the prisoners, including the applicant, to line up to be executed one by one. The applicant was one of the last in the line. As it was pitch black, he sneaked into a nearby pond. That did not attract the guards’ attention and around one in the morning, he was able to climb a fence with his hands still tied, went through a banana grove and reached the riverbank. […] Then, he went to Prek Khmer with an uncle who helped him hide in the forest and kept him in his house at night until January 7th 1979. He then returned to his native village.’ This story contrasts quite starkly with the facts you have told us, doesn’t it? […] I do not understand either. […] And Prek Khmer is in Kampong Cham province. Can you enlighten us? Which series of events is the right one?” “The truth is what I told you orally,” the witness claimed. “Can you read?” “Yes, I can read,” Phork Khan confirmed. He specified he was interviewed in his village by a representative of the human rights NGO Adhoc. “I do not think I stated the events as you read them to me. […] I don’t know if the statement was written clearly. In light of my difficulties, I did not proofread what is written here. I apologise.”

S-21 or not S-21?
“Do you maintain you were detained in S-21 or do you have any doubt regarding your place of detention?”, the president asked him unambiguously. “I was put in a place of detention. Back then, I did not know it was called S-21 or Tuol Sleng because I was blindfolded. But I could assume it was a security office. It was only in 2008, when I went with the NGO [Lawyers Without Borders] to track the biographies of my cousin and my wife that I learned the name of the place.” Nil Nonn invited him to give more details on the buildings he saw. “The building was made of wood. The interrogation room was on the ground floor and there were trees all around…”

Confusion regarding documents added to the civil party’s file
Judge Lavergne returned to documents that were filed to support his civil party application, in particular the analysis of the confessions of someone called Sok Nam, a name that did not remind the witness of anything. “Do you know how this document came to the tribunal, to the hands of your lawyers? Maybe your counsels will be able to explain us this mystery.”

Kim Mengkhy, one of his lawyers, then said he had done research on the website of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) and provided his client with some documents to examine, as he believed they were connected to his case. The explanation was rather confused. His international colleague, Martine Jacquin intervened to make “a general observation.”

Unimportant changes in the declarations?
“Your Honours, yesterday and today, you have observed, with some annoyance at times, that the witnesses before you made statements that were much less precise than the witnesses you heard previously. I think each of these situations must be placed back in their context. The witnesses you heard previously had a chance to be heard by the co-Investigating Judge, by tribunal investigators. They were thereby able to make their testimonies more specific, the investigation services were able to make the documents more specific and this allowed you to obtain very complete testimonies. […] We took charge of these files only when the civil party applications were settled, and I will recall, in some cases, with emergency deadlines that put us under rather difficult conditions. We noted ourselves, by discovering these files one by one, by taking the time to meet these civil parties, that in reality, the investigation work that had been done was accurate on many points, but erroneous on others. Nonetheless, it remains that these testimonies are highly interesting and, in my opinion, provide important information.” After recalling they attempted to gather as much supplementary information as possible, “which was much more difficult for us to achieve as we do not have the material resources of the tribunal’s investigators,” Martine Jacquin pursued: “Today, you have noted changes in the statements. I believe that what is important is what this man is declaring today, and I think that the written testimonies that were collected indeed included mistakes.” Something she justified by the fact that the work was done by Cambodian human rights organisations, by “young investigators who were inexperienced and ill-equipped,” which nonetheless made it possible to “re-establish a number of files.” The lawyer added that in the civil law tradition, “a witness was not prepared for his hearing.” Meanwhile, Duch has prepared his case thoroughly.

Phork Khan’s hearing is continuing on the next day and it will be interesting to hear what the accused has to say about his testimony.

Celebrating World Heritage

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
RCAF General Hing Bun Heang adds water to Buddhist offerings during a ceremony at Preah Vihear temple Tuesday.


The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Thet Sambath and Tracey Shelton

Preah Vihear

WITH dancing and drumming, pigeons and postage stamps, soldiers and civilians gathered at Preah Vihear temple and in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the temple's inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In Preah Vihear, the festivities began early, with a group of about 60 Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) soldiers - bearing rocket launchers, AK-47s and automatic weapons - gathering at the top of the temple at 7:30am. They stood at attention as commanders instructed them to protect the temple and, in turn, the Kingdom's heritage.

As the soldiers stood guard, RCAF generals including Hing Bun Heang presided over a morning ceremony, during which provincial and military officials released seven pigeons as well as balloons bearing the date of the inscription. Attendees were then treated to a traditional dance performance.

Though UNESCO's decision to accept Cambodia's World Heritage site application last July led to a year of heightened tension near the temple, 10 Thai soldiers stationed on the mountain's pagoda said Tuesday that the pageantry of the anniversary celebrations did not bother them.

"It is not a problem for us that Cambodians celebrate today," said Major Apichat Poopuak, "and it's not a problem for Thailand. We don't mind their celebration."

Though the presence of Thai soldiers at the pagoda has been a source of contention in recent weeks, Apichat said the Thai soldiers had encountered no resistance when they approached it Tuesday.

A senior RCAF military commander who spoke on condition of anonymity said there would be "no attempt" to remove Thai soldiers from the pagoda during the anniversary ceremony.

"We will celebrate the ceremony first, and then take steps to prevent the soldiers from returning to the pagoda," he said, though he did not elaborate on what those steps might be or when they would be taken.

Meas Pi, a 23-year-old RCAF soldier, said that he believed tensions had cooled dramatically at the temple complex in recent days, adding that the chances of further armed conflict breaking out at the temple were remote.

"I don't believe the Thai soldiers will attack us, and I don't think that any clashes will happen," he said. "The Thai soldiers understand our difficult past. Even now, though the situation remains tense, it is better compared to the past because ... now we do not push each other. We just stand in our bunkers."

Not everyone shared his optimism.

Nin Hon, 37, an RCAF soldier from Brigade 7, said Thailand's refusal to withdraw from the pagoda and from other disputed territory along the border would inevitably lead to conflict.

"If they don't withdraw, we will push them out," he said. "Now we are just waiting for the order."

Brigadier General Thol Sovann, deputy commander of Division 3, said lingering distrust between Cambodian and Thai troops had prompted RCAF commanders to keep some troops posted throughout the ceremony.

"Even though there is a ceremony at the temple, we have not gone to attend because we need to stand at the border," he said. "We don't know what the Thai soldiers will do during the ceremony."

In the capital
The sound of drums and bells could be heard emanating from schools and pagodas in Phnom Penh beginning at 11am Tuesday as residents heeded the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen to celebrate the occasion.

Chea Ban, a 40-year-old monk at Wat Lanka, said he was celebrating the "magic power" of Preah Vihear temple, which he said had forced "the enemy" to surrender.

"We drummed today in order to wake up our compatriots and to welcome the victory of Preah Vihear temple's inscription as a World Heritage site," he said, adding that he believed the celebration would strengthen the will of Cambodians "to defend their territorial sovereignty".

Hok Sothy, 20, a student at the Royal University of Law and Economics who also attended the Wat Lanka ceremony, said he believed the first anniversary of the temple's inscription would be an event that Cambodians of his generation would remember forever.

"The sound of the drums today gave me goosebumps all the way up to my head, and it woke up my love for the nation," Hok Sothy said. "Even though I am a student, I feel ready to fight for the interests of the nation."

In a speech Tuesday evening at Olympic Stadium, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An also touched on themes of pride and national unity, adding that the "successful" World Heritage Committee meeting in Seville, Spain, last month further cemented the victory of Preah Vihear's inscription.

He said the committee had asked Cambodia to continue working to preserve the temple and to present an additional report about preservation work in 2010. His comments appeared to be an attempt to refute Thai media reports that Cambodia's presentation had been incomplete and thus rejected by the committee.

Also Tuesday, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun told the Post that the ministry was planning to publish 20,000 stamps featuring the image of Preah Vihear temple.

"We have already released the stamps to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the temple's listing and to promote it worldwide," So Khun said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG

Embattled attorney quits SRP

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
MEAS SOKCHEA

Hun Sen rescinds complaints after receiving letter of apology.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that he had withdrawn his legal complaints against Kong Sam Onn, a lawyer representing Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers Mu Sochua and Ho Vann, after the attorney resigned his post and defected to the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Kong Sam Onn, who filed a defamation lawsuit against the premier on behalf of Mu Sochua in April, was facing a Bar Association inspection relating to charges that he breached the association's code of professional ethics. He was also facing a related defamation case filed by Hun Sen.

"I have ordered my lawyer to drop my complaints against Kong Sam Onn. He wrote to apologise to me and offered to join the CPP," Hun Sen said during a forum on social safety nets, during which he also warned foreign commentators not to act as "spokesmen" for the opposition on the issue.

"I don't want anything except honour," he added.

Kong Sam Onn could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but SRP parliamentarians refused to condemn his action, saying it was prompted by intense political pressure.

"I do not condemn Kong Sam Onn. He defended me bravely," Mu Sochua said, adding that he emailed her to apologise for his resignation, saying that he had no choice.

"I know that in his heart he is suffering so much," she added.

Fellow SRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang agreed, saying Kom Song Onn had endured excessive political pressure by representing opposition party members against ruling party officials.

"Kong Sam Onn told the party last week that he had defected from his legal position in the SRP. He has difficulties because the pressure gives him no other option," he said, adding that the defection was a dire indication of the state of Cambodia's democratic system.

"We are not disappointed with his defection because we understand the situation. We know that our country has no full democracy. A powerful group has pressured a weak group."

But Hun Sen's lawyer Ky Tech dismissed the suggestion that the government had put pressure on Kong Sam Onn to resign, saying that he wrote to the prime minister after he realised the mistake he had made.

"It is an individual's responsibility that when he makes a mistake he must say sorry," he said.

Ky Tech declined to comment on the lawyer's defection to the CPP.

"[There was] no pressure on Kong Sam Onn. Samdech Hun Sen, the court and I, none of us have met him.... Samdech was surprised when he read the letter of apology."

Ky Tech said he withdrew the bar complaint at 2pm Tuesday and would withdraw a related defamation case from Phnom Penh Muncipal Court today.

Rules are rules
Chiv Songhak, president of the Bar Association, said Tuesday that the bar did not know whether Kong Sam Onn had defected to the CPP or not.

But he emphasised that the Bar Association was independent of any political party and said it would still proceed with its investigation against Kong Sam Onn for his conduct while representing Mu Sochua.

"If he defects to any party that is up to him," Chiv Songhak said.

"His case at the bar will still proceed because he is a bar member who is bound by the rules of the bar."

He said, however, that Kong Sam Onn did not appear before the Bar Council as scheduled Tuesday, and that he had requested a postponement while he takes his son to Singapore for medical treatment.

Mu Sochua said the nature of the lawsuits filed by Ky Tech show that the bar is a tool of the ruling party. She said the SRP might struggle to find a new lawyer following the bar investigation and Kong Sam Onn's resignation.

"I know that from now to the future, the opposition parties will be lost forever in the courts," she said.

Witness describes crawling out of pits at killing fields

Photo by: Georgia Wilkins
Phork Khan testifies Tuesday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, where he said he survived S-21.


The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Georgia Wilkins

Seventh alleged survivor of Tuol Sleng prison claims to have fled Choeung Ek after waking up, hands tied, in a pile of dead bodies.

AWITNESS who claims to have survived detention at Tuol Sleng prison told Cambodia's war crimes court Tuesday that he escaped the Choeung Ek killing fields by pulling himself out of a pit of corpses and floating down the Tonle Sap river to safety.

Phork Khan, 57, said he had been arrested in Tuol Kork in 1978 and taken to Choeung Ek on the night before the Vietnamese-led invasion in 1979. He said he believed he was detained in Tuol Sleng before being taken to Choeung Ek.

But judges expressed doubt about the veracity of his claims, saying the details of his testimony were in "stark contrast" to his original complaint to the court.

"I was put at the edge of the pit and I knew it would be my last day," Phork Khan said.

But he said blows to his ribs only knocked him unconscious, and that he later awoke underneath dead prisoners.

"At about 2am I gained consciousness. My hands were tied, but I tried to move, crawling on top of the corpses ... I learned at a later date the area was Choeung Ek," he said.

Phork Khan is the third witness this week to claim to have survived Tuol Sleng prison, casting confusion over how many people were released from the notorious facility.

He said Tuesday that although he was blindfolded during most of his stay, he concluded that the prison was Tuol Sleng after he went back there in 2008 to look for the biography of his wife, who he said he also believed was detained at there.

He said he believed the prison's chief, accused jailer Kaing Guek Eav, was present during his interrogations.

Judges grilled Phork Khan about the details of his seemingly miraculous escape, which involved floating many kilometres downriver.

"I found a piece of timber, and I floated on the timber ... I did not know where I would be led to. I just let the water carry me until I reached Chroy Changvar," he said. "I told myself I could live."

Presiding Judge Nil Nonn challenged his story by saying it would have been impossible for him to float in that direction that time of year.

But the witness said that other signs had led him to believe the site was Choeung Ek.

For instance, he said he recalled being placed in a wooden hut that existed at Choueng Ek.

More claim to be survivors
Ly Chan, a 55-year-old civil party, also testified as a survivor of the secret detention centre Tuesday.

He estimated he was held there for three months, during which he overheard guards refer to the centre as Tuol Sleng high school. He admitted, however, that he had no other recollection of the prison.

"I was so horrified at the time, and I cannot recall the location at all," said Ly Chan, who described being beaten unconscious twice.

Ly Chan's civil party lawyers admitted that they did "not have the ability" to locate documents verifying their client's claims.

KK deportees lack govt support: NGOs

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
CHEANG SOKHA

THE 56 Khmer Krom refugees deported by Thai immigration police Friday have begun the long process of finding their feet in Cambodia, but rights groups say the state has so far provided no support to the group.

Chea Sokun, secretary of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association, an NGO that sheltered the deportees after their arrival at the Poipet border crossing, said they left the office Monday evening.

Some were bound for the Banteay Meanchey capital Sisophon, where there is already a small community of Khmer Krom exiles, while others stayed in Poipet.

"They seem to be safe now because no authorities came to interfere with them," Chea Sokun said.

But other rights groups said the authorities had done little to help the deportees find shelter or work, adding that they were still relying on the charity of NGOs and Khmer Krom exiles.

"We did not know about their future and we have not yet arranged any living for them," said Soum Chankea, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc.

Chao Veasna, the assistant to Yont Tharo, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker in Banteay Meanchey province, said 29 of the exiles had found shelter at Tuol Prasat, about 2 kilometres from Poipet, but that one monk in the group still lacks a place to stay.

"I don't know how long they will stay here... I asked them and they told me that they want to live in a third country ... when they fled from Vietnam," he said.

He added that another deportee was still missing following reports from Monday that he had been arrested in Battambang province.

Banteay Meanchey police commissioner Hun Hean said the government had no plans to give the deportees shelter, adding that they should return to their old homes, even though the deportees claim they are from southern Vietnam.

"We have no means to help them," he said. "Cambodia is very large - they can live wherever they want."

Duty marks advent of Chol Vosa

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A monk sits inside Wat Lanka on Tuesday in Phnom Penh, ahead of the beginning of the three-month-long Chol Vosa festival


The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Mom Kunthear

Buddhists in Cambodia mark the three-month-long festival with gifts of candles and other offerings to monks to ease the burden of collecting alms during the difficult rainy season.

TODAY marks the beginning of the traditional Khmer festival Chol Vosa, a three-month period during which monks do not leave their pagoda to collect alms.

The holiday is associated with the Vosa, a large candle that is supposed to last the duration of the festival, Tip Sao, a 27-year-old monk, said on Tuesday.

"People buy the Vosa candle and offer it to the monks so they will have light when they pray to the Buddha, he said.

Im Borin, a researcher for the National Committee of Khmer Customs and Horoscopes at the Ministry of Cults and Religions, said that the Buddhist holiday has been celebrated for many years and that it is meant to show respect to the monks and make their lives easier.

Most of the year, monks collect money and food from their community, but during these three months when it rains the hardest, they stay in their pagoda.

Im Borin said the festival's origins reflect Buddhists' compassion for their local monks.

"One day, the people saw the monks walking everywhere to collect alms, and they saw how difficult it was for them to do," he explained.

"When the people saw their difficulty, they had the idea to stop the monks from walking around and collecting alms during the rainy season," he said.

"For three months, all monks have to stay in the pagoda to wait for food to be offered to them," he said.

An adviser to the Mores and Customs Commission, Miech Ponn, said that the tradition of handing out Vosa candles is a way to honour not just the monks but also one's religion.

"Vosa candles have a good meaning for Buddhists because it shows real respect to their religion. We have to do it every year," he said.

Good luck
Miech Ponn said that the longer the candles burn, the greater the fortunes for the pagoda housing it and the community that supports it.

"If the candle burns for a whole festival - three months - it means there will be good fortune for that pagoda and the Buddhists because they can take care of the candle fire for a long time," he said.

Tip Sao, however, admitted that most pagodas need more than a single candle to last through the festival.

"Each pagoda has at least two Vosa candles for the Chol Vosa festival," he said.

Solemn duty
San Leng, 65, who bought four candles at the Russian Market as well as noodles and cakes, said she buys supplies for the monks every year and that it is something all Buddhists should do.

"It is my duty and the duty of others who respect Buddhism," she said.

Tip Sao, however, said that not all pagodas receive Vosa candles because some areas are very poor.

"At the isolated pagodas, monks don't have Vosa candles to burn because the Buddhists don't have enough money to buy them for the monks," he said, adding that it was not necessary for all pagodas.

Researcher Im Borin said that in the past, Buddhists in Cambodia had to get creative to obtain candles for the festival.

"Before we could buy candles to use [for the festival], Cambodian people had to make their own. They did not own many candles themselves, and did not have the money to purchase them," he said.

Multilateral treaties needed to end flesh trade, say delegates

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Christopher Shay

At the end of a two-day trafficking conference in the capital, delegates say such treaties, once signed, need to be effectively implemented.

A MAJOR regional anti-trafficking conference ended Tuesday with the five participating countries issuing a set of 13 recommendations that outline policies expected to improve cooperation and standardise the implementation of trafficking laws.

The two-day conference marked the first time that Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and Cambodia had gathered to address the problem of cross-border human trafficking, said Chou Bun Eng, the chair of Cambodia's High Level Working Group to Combat Human Trafficking,

Smuggling, Labour and Sexual Commercial Exploitation (HLWG).

She said the conference, called the Intercountry Consultative Dialogue on Combating Human Trafficking, offered a good opportunity to identify gaps in the international fight to end the flesh trade, adding that countries in the region needed to sign bilateral and multilateral agreements to further cooperation.

"If one country signs and another does not, it is a barrier to collaboration," she said in an interview.

Chou Bun Eng said she had discussed with delegates from Malaysia how to pass a memorandum of understanding that would make it easier for Cambodians to send workers to Malaysia legally.

"We need to start with bilateral agreements," she said, "and next we will move from bilateral to multilateral."

Nandita Baruah, the chief of party at the Asia Foundation's Counter-Trafficking in Persons Program, emphasised that multilateral agreements, once signed, need to be effectively implemented.

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If one country signs and another does not, it is a barrier to collaboration.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"What we need to put in place are operational mechanisms ... which make the memorandums a reality," she said, stressing the need to have a common set of minimum standards for the treatment of victims.

Since 2004, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia have been party to a multilateral agreement with Laos, Myanmar and China called the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT), At the meeting, delegates praised COMMIT as a model for multilateral efforts against trafficking.

Baruah said the presence of so many high-level representatives from different countries showed that "countries in the region are not taking human trafficking lightly".

The chair of the HLWG, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, told the audience that Cambodia remained committed to fighting the flesh trade no matter how the US State Department ranked the country in terms of its anti-trafficking efforts.

"Despite some of our best efforts, we have this year been put on the Tier 2 watch list as per the US TIP ratings," Sar Kheng said. "We are a bit saddened by this; however, this only increases our resolve to continue to work with greater commitment on the issue."

The countries did not always agree on everything. Choon-Jin Kim, a member of South Korea's National Assembly, told the audience that Korea had a different understanding of the definition of trafficking that did not include Cambodian women who go to South Korea for marriage.

HIV families struggle at site

Photo by: May Titthara
A child who was recently relocated to Tuol Sambo draws water from a pump on Tuesday.

The Phnm Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
MAY TITTHARA and MOM KUNTHEAR

Borei Keila evictees say their new home lacks clean water and proper shelters.

FAMILIES evicted last month from Phnom Penh's Borei Keila community said Tuesday that they were living in unhealthy conditions at the Tuol Sambo relocation site, citing overcrowded shelters without access to clean water.

The families, all of whom have at least one HIV-positive member, said the authorities had installed one well at the site, but that the water was dirty and unusable and had made some residents sick.

"We want the authorities to dig a deep well for us because we're paying a lot of money for clean water and will go through our US$250 soon," said Kim Leang, a resident and mother of a two-month-old baby, referring to the $250 in compensation that the Ministry of Tourism gave the 23 families that were relocated in mid-June.

The Borei Keila site, adjacent to the ministry, is to be converted into a garden.

Kim Leang said that in addition to the water problem, residents could not cope with the heat of their corrugated zinc shelters, which are smaller than the homes they left.

She said the heat had ruined antiretroviral medicines that many in the HIV-positive community depend on.

"We can't live in these houses, it's so hot. I'd like to see high-ranking officials come live in this place one day - what will they say?"

Vin Thy, 36, said children had fallen ill in their new homes.

"Five children are sick to the point of being hospitalised, the oldest of them 8 years old. Who can live like this, with the heat and no clean water?" she said.

"They abandoned us here like animals. They've never come to visit us or to check on our health or situation," she added.

Though the relocated families have complained about the new conditions, 24 other families from Borei Keila are asking aurhorities to place them in Tuol Sambo as well.

Former Borei Keila resident Pheak Kdey Neary said the families did not have proper homes anymore.

"We're just living in front of somebody's house," he said.

"I think if we go there and don't have clear water, it's better than living in front of somebody's house. It's the rainy season, so it's really hard for us."

Sao Vanna, chief of the Borei Keila community, said City Hall had already decided to place the families in Tuol Sambo.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said the water problems were temporary and that City Hall would dig a deep well soon.

"All the families sent to Tuol Sambo are living very good lives because they have new houses, money to do business and medical care close to them," he said. "They live better lives than before."

Group calls for laws to protect home help

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Khuon Leakhana

DOMESTIC workers all too often face low pay and poor working conditions, particularly when they travel abroad for employment, officials said during the first day of a two-day conference hosted by the NGO Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW).

LSCW Programme Manager Mon Sok Cha said the purpose of the conference was to press the government to draft laws that would protect domestic workers from exploitation.

"Right now there are no laws and regulations that can protect them," he said. "Their work hours and duties are not clearly stated, and their wages are lower than they should be."

Supporters unable to visit publisher jailed for disinformation

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

Rights groups and opposition lawmakers have asked to meet with imprisonedHang Chakra, but only his lawyer has been allowed to see him.

DESPITE a steady stream of visitation requests, Prey Sar prison officials continued to prevent jailed publisher Hang Chakra from meeting with Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers, relatives and other supporters early this week, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Chuong Chou Ngy, who has met twice with his client, said he and one of Hang Chakra's two daughters had been the only people allowed to do so.

In a June 26 hearing, Judge Din Sivuthy found Hang Chakra, the 55-year-old editor and publisher of the Khmer Machas Srok News, guilty of disinformation under the UNTAC Criminal Code in connection with a series of articles he published in April and May accusing officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption. The court then sentenced him to one year in prison and fined him 9 million riels (US$2,167).

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For me it is quite easy to meet him, but for [others] it has been impossible.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"For me it is quite easy to meet him, but for his relatives, local NGOs and lawmakers it has been impossible," Chuong Chou Ngy said, adding that he did not know why the requests had not been approved.

Pen Samitthy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), said Tuesday that his organisation sent a letter last week to the Interior Ministry's prisons department requesting a meeting with Hang Chakra.

He described the visitation request as "normal" and said he did not know why the department had yet to respond.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said Tuesday that his organisation had submitted a visitation request last Monday at the behest of Hang Chakra's family members, who have said that Hang Chakra suffers from multiple illnesses.

He said Licadho frequently submits such requests, adding that the response time varies arbitrarily and can take as long as one month.

Sam Ny, the prison department's deputy director of operations, said he had not seen a visitation request from CCJ.

"I was just informed this morning that the letter was sent straight to the director of the prisons department," he said.

He said he received Licadho's letter last week and signed it on Tuesday before sending it to the director of the department. He said he believed it would be sent back to him on Wednesday, at which point he would send it to Licadho.

No official verdict
Also Tuesday, Chuong Chou Ngy said he had not yet received a copy of the official verdict or the arrest warrant from the Municipal Court, adding that it was standard practice for the court to provide copies of those documents.

Judge Din Sivuthy said Tuesday that the conviction letter and warrant had been sent to the Court of Appeal.

A fragile peace, one year on


Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
CHEANG SOKHA

Views from the front
Images from the Preah Vihear temple complex and front-line positions during preparations for the one-year anniversary of the temple's inscription as a World Heritage site.

Keo Samnang, 28, a monk at Wat Botum

"The celebration is to inform all Cambodian citizens that Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, and that it was recognised and listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. People are celebrating everywhere across the country - in the pagodas, schools and public parks. At the pagoda we rang the drum for half an hour to celebrate the victory at Preah Vihear."

Phorn Rina, 26, motorbike driver from Prey Veng

I just learned today that there would be a celebration of Preah Vihear temple. I've seen a lot of people out celebrating, and I know this event will be commemorated in all places in the country. Even though I just learned about it, I want this to be celebrated every year. I am concerned that Thailand wants Preah Vihear and am afraid to lose this temple to Thailand.

Nhem Sambo, 78, a nun at Wat Langka

Today I celebrated the one-year anniversary of Preah Vihear's listing, the first time we have celebrated this event in the pagoda. Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, and we want to celebrate this anniversary every year. The magic of Preah Vihear is very strong, and it will help Cambodian people have happiness and also prevent another Thai incursion.

Seng Bunna, 11, a fifth-grader at Anuwat Primary School

Today I'm very happy because I rang the bell with my friend to celebrate the anniversary of Preah Vihear's listing as a World Heritage site. I want to ring the bell again next year because it was very exciting. This evening my friends and I will go to Olympic Stadium to see the concert.

INTERVIEWS AND PHOTOS BY CHEANG SOKHA

Vehicle sales down by about 50pc in first half

Photo by: Sebastian Strangio
A worker locks up a car dealership in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. Sales of the Kingdom’s top branded vehicles have slumped badly this year up to the end of June.


The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
NGUON SOVAN

Local dealers blame economic crisis – and particularly fall in property sector – for dismal first six months' sales figures

VEHICLE distributors gave a bleak assessment of the state of the industry Tuesday, with most saying there is no sign sales will pick up before the end of 2010.

Sales are down by around half in the six months to June 30, with the decline blamed on the depressed real estate market, dealers said.

Kong Nuon, president of TTHK, which holds the exclusive licence to distribute new Toyotas in the Kingdom, declined to tell the Post how many vehicles his firm sold in the first six months.

"The Toyota brand dropped 40 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year," he said.

The global economic crisis had damaged the property sector, he added, and because most car buyers were spending profits from land sales, that had in turn damaged vehicle sales.

Toyota is the brand leader in the Kingdom's new-vehicle market, selling 1,100 automobiles last year.

Kong Nuon expects to sell just 750 vehicles this year and predicted that demand next year will be 40 percent down on 2008.

He said 2,800 new vehicles of all brands were sold last year, but expects demand to be half that this year.

The drop in sales outstrips in percentage terms the predicted global fall in Toyota sales made by the Japanese firm at an April press conference when it said it expects global sales will drop 14 percent to 6.5 million vehicles this year.

Other dealers were also gloomy. Seng Voeung, division manager of Ford dealership RM Asia, told the Post that sales of Fords - for which the year's target was 500 units - are down one-fifth.

"The situation is quite different from early last year - these days when we demonstrate cars to potential customers, they say they are interested but have no cash to buy because their money is tied up in investments such as land and housing," he said.

Seng Voeung predicted that the stagnant real estate market would lead to a 30 percent drop in Ford sales next year.

The country's third-biggest brand, Mitsubishi, has been hit even harder than its two larger rivals.

Ou Vannarith, the business development officer for Mitsu (Cambodia) Co Ltd, which distributes Mitsubishi locally, also blamed the property market.

"Sales dropped up to 70 percent in the first semester compared to the same period last year," he said, although he declined to reveal how many vehicles the firm had sold. "And sales are likely to drop further in the second half of this year and next year."

He said the firm was struggling to sell to private individuals, so was now targeting companies, NGOs and embassies.

Horn Seam, representative of SsangYong's distributor, Huotraco Automotive, which imports the Korean brand, said times were tough even though the company's vehicles had been for sale in the country for just two years.

"Last year was successful - we met our target to sell 100 vehicles and set the same sales target for this year. However, we have reached only half of the target," he said. "We forecast the automobile market will continue to drop but should recover late next year or early 2011."

Foreign arrivals dip as locals travel more

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
KAY KIMSONG

THE Ministry of Tourism said it will rely on domestic tourism to ensure a 2 percent predicted increase in tourist numbers for 2009, as it reported a drop in foreign tourists to Cambodia.

Kong Sophearak, director of the ministry's statistics department, told the Post Tuesday that he expects 2 million foreign tourists this year generating revenue of US$1.5 billion.

Last year 2.12 million foreigners visited Cambodia, he said, but the number of foreign visitors has fallen 2.2 percent in the first five months to 946,000. "But we can see the number of domestic tourists is four or fivefold larger than the number of foreign tourists," he said.

Ministry figures showed that 2.85 million Cambodians travelled domestically in the first five months, a rise of 5.3 percent on 2008 compared with 6.7 million for the whole of 2008.

"Local travellers are the key to generating revenue in tourism these days," he said. "We are like China, which relies on its own people to spend money."

Kong Sophearak blamed the drop in foreign tourists on the global economic crisis, the border dispute with Thailand and political upheaval in Bangkok.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said Cambodians don't have the spare cash to venture abroad, and the spread of swine flu has made them keener to stay in the Kingdom.

Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said his organisation plans to distribute a guide book letting domestic travellers know about exciting local destinations and to encourage them to buy domestic goods.

National Audit Authority to benefit from British experts

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
MAY KUNMAKARA

Independent auditors of govt accounts receive technical assistance amid a bid to develop the Kingdom’s accounting acumen and enforce a national standard

THE independent body tasked with auditing government accounts and drawing up an accounting standard for the private sector has recently benefitted from technical assistance provided by its United Kingdom counterpart, it said.

Uth Chhorn, chairman of the National Audit Authority (NAA), told the Post Tuesday that the purpose of the help given by the UK's National Audit Office (NAO) was to improve the NAA's ability to fulfil this dual mandate.

"We worked with the NAO to improve both our internal capacity and those regulations that will be incorporated in a national accounting standard, particularly that used for [small and medium-sized enterprises]," he said.

The forthcoming stock exchange makes it imperative that firms are able to produce transparent financial statements for investors and the general public, said Uth Chhorn.

"[The NAA] is trying to learn how [the NAO] does things so we can use key points and regulations to improve our capacity," he said. "But we can't follow them 100 percent ... we are different countries with different cultures and laws."

Uth Chhorn said the NAA follows the UN's international standard - known as INTOSAI - which is used by supreme audit institutions such as the NAO in auditing government spending, operations and monitoring.

Heng Vanda, director of Vanda Accounting and Auditing Company, said most companies in Cambodia do not use accounting standards to produce financial statements because they want to avoid tax.

A survey released in April by the International Finance Corporation - part of the World Bank - found that 96 percent of Cambodian businesses are micro-enterprises.

Heng Vanda added that an even bigger problem is the overlapping checks done by the NAA and the Ministry of Economy and Finance in assessing the financial performance of government departments. In other countries, such an auditing role is performed solely by the auditing authority.

"I don't know what kind of system our country uses right now," Heng Vanda said. "But if we can get some help from a rich country like the UK, then things will change because we will be able to draft our own auditing rules."

Uth Chhorn said that the priority is to improve the capacity of officials to understand and implement the rules.

"At this stage we shouldn't worry too much about building our own accounting standard - we should instead build capacity and accountability," he said.

Inside Business: For Cambodia's mini-marts, it's all about convenience

Photo by: SOUEN SAY
A shop assistant waits for customers behind a counter of a Smile mini-mart in Phnom Penh.

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We know the financial crisis will improve over time, and we know Cambodia has big opportunities.
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The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
SOUEN SAY

With the property boom over, Smile mini-mart has been able to find affordable, well-placed locations in the capital while it waits for economic recovery

THE end of the real estate boom may not have helped the country's building developers, but it certainly helped Kirk MacManus.

Over the past year he has been building up Smile mini-mart, a food and convenience retailer that has now expanded to three outlets in Phnom Penh.

"It was very difficult finding good locations because the country was in the middle of the real estate boom," he said. "But now the boom is over, we are finding increasing numbers of good rental locations at more reasonable prices."

MacManus, an Australian, came to Cambodia with extensive retail experience and the benefit of having lived in the Kingdom during tougher times.

"I decided to start my own business here because I know Cambodia very well - I lived here in 1993 during UNTAC's time. At that time I worked in a company supplying food to UNTAC," he said.

MacManus opened his first retail outlet in June 2008 as the effects of the global economic crisis were sweeping the globe.

But his extensive regional retail experience - he has worked in Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, East Timor and Australia - meant he was confident of success.

"Cambodia is a good place to do business because we know the financial crisis will improve over time and we know Cambodia has big opportunities to grow its economy," he said.

So what caused him to think Smile mini-marts would succeed? Extensive research showed customers were largely unsatisfied with their shopping experience.

With that as a starting point, MacManus set out to offer customers what they told him they wanted: excellent customer service, friendly staff, a clean and comfortable shopping experience, and a wide range of products.

"We hope to achieve this with every customer, every time they visit one of our stores," he said.

MacManus said the retail trade in Cambodia is changing fast, as incomes increase and consumers want to try new products and shop in modern stores.

"This shift in spending is typical in developing markets - it reminds me of the shifts from traditional trading to modern trading that occurred in Indonesia 15 years ago," he said.

MacManus is not the first to notice the demand, and a number of operators have sprung up to tap this market recently.

Two years ago, he said, you could find convenience stores at petrol stations but not elsewhere. Now several are opening each month.

McManus said many people think it is a way to make easy money and end up learning the hard way that it is anything but.

Many stores have shut down in the past year because they were unable to cover their operating expenses, he said.

He expects that in three years' time there will be a number of recognised brands as the winners dominate the market and many of the smaller outlets close.

Breaking even and beyond
He said his stores should be profitable after two years, and despite the slip in sales late last year, which he blamed on the economic crisis, he is bullish.

"We are investing with a long-term strategy, so even though we aren't making money now, we know that in the future when the economy improves we will earn profits," he said.

Most of the products his outlets sell are sourced locally from more than 100 distributors who bring in stock from countries such as Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States and France.

"We would prefer to buy products manufactured in Cambodia, but other than beverages there are not many made here," he said.

What's different, then, about doing business in the Kingdom?

MacManus said that Cambodia brings its own cultural twist to the convenience store industry: In most countries convenience outlets are small, and people buy quickly and leave.

Not so here. His customers - mainly school students and young families - also use the occasion to socialise and relax with friends.

That means larger stores and seating are needed. Just as well the property boom is over, then.

Kep developments take off

Photo by: MARIKA HILL
New developments such as Kep Lodge are transforming the holiday destination.


The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
MARIKA HILL

New investments from both the private and public sector are rebuilding the sleepy coastal town of Kep as one of Cambodia’s premier tourism getaways

Tourism developments in Kep are transforming the quiet seaside town back into a premier beach getaway, due to greater investment by developers and the Cambodian government.

A seaport in Kampot province is due to be completed in 2013 and will connect the area with surrounding countries. The government is also upgrading the Phnom Penh-Kep road and Sihanoukville Airport.

So Mara, secretary of state at the Tourism Ministry, said the mountain and beach made Kep attractive to Khmer families and foreign tourists.

He said the new seaport, which will provide a ferry service for tourists travelling to and from Vietnam and Thailand, will also boost visitor numbers to the area.

"It is a preferred destination because it has a clean beach and Bokor Mountain," he said. "[Visitors] come with families. This type of tourist ... will go back home, talk to friends and they all come back."

A 12-storey resort and casino are also under development on Bokor Hill, an abandoned French resort built in 1922.

And investments companies like Devenco are taking advantage of Kep's development potential.

Christophe Forsinetti, vice president of Devenco, said their company was working on a number of projects in the area, including restoring a pre-colonial mansion and building 32 four-star bungalows, due to be completed later this year.

Devenco also plans to develop a luxury resort on the island of Koh Pou, 10 kilometres off the coast of Kep.

Forsinetti said the area could see the same scale of development as Sihanoukville in a few years' time, but with a greater focus on luxury and residential developments.

"There will be tremendous growth, we know a lot of people moving from Sihanoukville to Kep," he said.

"They come for the atmosphere, the forest ... the treks they can do."

The new seaport and airport and road upgrade will mean Kep will eventually be just two hours from Phnom Penh, one hour from an airport and 20 kilometres from Vietnam, he said.

Colonial homes left vacant since the Khmer Rouge would not be viable economic options for developers but may appeal to private buyers, he said.

Kep is struggling to keep up with weekend tourist numbers.Lily Luu, who owns Veranda Resort in Kep, said it was common for the hotel to fill up over the weekend with expats and international travellers.

She said her high-end retreat had been operating since 2002, and in the past seven years she had seen an increase in developments.

"We get couples, families and people from all over the world," she said, adding the shorter trip to Kep made it more accessible than Sihanoukville for expats travelling down from Phnom Penh for the weekend.

The town's appeal was its "charm", including its history, nature and peacefulness, she said.

Police Blotter: 8 Jul 2009

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
LIM PHALLA

POLICE CLOSE FAKE BORDER CHECKPOINT
Two men were arrested on Sunday for setting up an illegal border checkpoint and using weapons against travelling merchants in Prasat village, Ou Bei Choan commune. Chuon Vuth, 35, and Ghuon Boy, 32, are accused of using the fake checkpoint to collect money from merchants importing goods from Thailand into Cambodia. Police confiscated a shotgun and Lexus car from the perpetrators, who reside in Poipet.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

SON ACCUSED OF SLAYING MOTHER
A mentally ill man has been arrested for cutting his mother's throat while she slept on Monday. Mao Serey, who lives in Kampong Cham's Tbuong Kmoum district, was charged with murdering Met Ses, 67, by police the following morning.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

BODYGUARD KILLED BY GUARD DOGS
A young bodyguard was mauled to death by four vicious dogs in the park of a luxury residence owned by an official working for Preah Sihanouk Autonomous Port. The incident happened in Preah Sihanouk province on July 6. The victim, Yot Ny, 22, was identified as the bodyguard of Kao Rattana, the son of the house owner. The victim's body was sent to his hometown in Kandal province's Koh Thom district for the funeral.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

WOMAN STUNG TO DEATH BY WASPS
A Chet Borey district council member has been stung to death by a swarm of wasps that were driven from their nest by a falling palm fruit. Chhim Nary, 61, was attacked by the wasps while she was riding a bicycle beneath a palm tree containing the wasps' nest, on Saturday. Witnesses said a ripe palm fruit fell down on the nest, dispersing the wasps just as the victim arrived. She died at hospital early the next day.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

JEALOUSY DRIVES OLD MAN TO SUICIDE
A 76-year-old jealous and disabled husband hanged himself after suspecting his younger wife, Vet Van, 66, of having an affair. Police said that Vet Van, who resides in Kampong Speu's Svay Teap village, committed suicide in the early morning of July 4.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

MEN CHARGED WITH PETTY THEFT
Three men have been charged with burglary and buying stolen items, which included 40 sheets of plywood and 40 sheets of zinc. Tim Tak, 17 and Sien Socheat, 16, were arrested on Saturday for burglary. The third man, Nov Phal, 40, was arrested the following day for buying the stolen items.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

Vattanac tower in govt push for resolve

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Sorun Say

Government officials inspected the US$100 million Vattanac Tower construction site last Thursday, after visiting Gold Tower 42, Camko City, Canadia Tower and NagaWorld.

The officials also visited Grand Phnom Penh International City to persuade and cooperate with developers to push ahead with their plans despite the impact of the global financial crisis.

Lao Tip Seiha, director of the Construction Department at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said the ministry is planning to inspect all construction sites in Phnom Penh, at a rate of two sites per month, to strengthen relationships and persuade the owners of the buildings to be optimistic and confident about the sale or rent of their projects.

"The world financial crisis has even hit our country - especially the construction sector - but some big construction companies still continue with their projects, as we see with Vattanac Tower still under way," he said.

"We [the ministry] are planning to go down to examine the prospects of two constructions site per month, to strengthen the cooperation and persuade the foreign investors in the construction sector to feel good and confident about their projects," Lao Tip Seiha told the Post Thursday.

Sam Ang Vattanac, executive director of Vattanac Tower, said he welcomed the ministry's coming to inspect the Vattanac construction site.

"It is good, I'm happy and welcome the Ministry of Land Management to come down and see our construction,"Sam Ang Vattanac said.

"We will follow the rules from the ministry to make a good quality of construction."

Construction on the 38-storey Vattanac Tower started in 2009 and is due for completion in 2011. The tower is being built on 11,800 square metres of prime land in the Daun Penh district on Monivong Boulevard.

It will house the head office of Vattanac Bank, a business centre and Vattanac Capital.

Recarving an art niche in Cambodian culture

Photo by: Stephanie Mee
Khmer woodcarving is heavily influenced by Indian styles and Hinduisim, as well as Buddhism.


The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
Stephanie Mee

Master wood-carver Chan Sim survived the Khmer Rouge purging of artists and now passes on the tradition of Khmer woodcarving to the next generation

PROFESSOR Chan Sim watches keenly as his students delicately chip away at blocks of wood, using metal tools to shape it into figures, scenes and decorative lintels based on designs and motifs passed down for centuries.

The small gallery and workshop on Street 178 are Chan Sim's, as are the students who are among hundreds who study under the master wood-carver to learn the ancient practice of Khmer woodcarving in the hopes of one day opening their own successful woodworking studios.

The 73 year-old Chan Sim began his journey into the art world in 1950 when he enrolled at the Royal University of Fine Arts. He studied visual arts such as painting, sculpture and woodcarving as well as history and archaeology, and in 1957 was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts. In 1959 he started teaching at the university, specialising in teaching woodcarving until the onset of the civil war in Cambodia.

Rich tradition
"When I was in university, many people from all over the region wanted to learn Khmer arts, including many Thais and Laotians who attended the school," says Chan Sim.

"It is a rich tradition that is steeped in history and symbolism, and is aesthetically stunning. Unfortunately, during the war this all changed."

The Khmer Rouge regime deemed the traditional Khmer arts unnecessary to their socialist agrarian revolution and purged countless monuments, artistic works and educated artists during its 1975-1979 rule of the country.

Chan Sim survived this dark period by hiding his education, telling people he was a simple labourer carving doorways for houses. When senior Khmer Rouge officials brought him stencils and blueprints for woodcarvings with foreign lettering he pretended not to be able to read the characters despite his fluency in French and slight knowledge of English. "Before the war there were 40 master wood-carvers in Cambodia," he says. "Only four of us survived."

After the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, Chan Sim immediately began teaching woodcarving again, and in 1980 opened up his shop, Art of Khmer Angkor, that still stands today. He has made it his life's goal to teach the rich history and specialised techniques of traditional Khmer woodcarving.

Photo by: Stephanie Mee
Professor Chan Sim at his workshop Art of Khmer Angkor on Steet 178.


Heavy Hindu influence
He explains, "Khmer woodworking can be traced back as far as the 6th century AD, and was heavily influenced by Indian styles and designs and images from the Hindu religious pantheon, and later Buddhism.

"During the Angkor period, skilled artists were called upon by the kings to contribute their work to the vast building plans at Angkor, and it was then that the four main design types of Cambodia were consolidated."

Khmer woodworking design motifs have typically used four main styles since the Angkor period: wind, water, land and air. Each style has unique defining aspects, and symbolises elements of the human experience.

The wind style uses graceful curlicues and motifs of clouds to represent life and breath. The water style uses images of plants, such as lotus flowers, lily pads and fish to symbolise the life-giving force of water. The land style symbolises the body and makes use of vines, flowers, tree stalks and plant stems while the fire style employs intricate flame designs and is mainly used in temples, funerals and cremation ceremonies as it represents war and death.

"Khmer style is quite different from Thai or Laotian styles," says Chan Sim. "For example, the Thai like to use the fire style in many of their wooden artworks.

"Everywhere you go in Thailand you see these designs, but for Cambodians, this style symbolizes very negative aspects, so we use it very carefully."

Chen Sim explains that Khmer woodcarving designs rely heavily on spirituality, and many are religious in nature. "The most powerful images are statues that are highly realistic, and these must be treated with respect as spirits are often fooled into thinking they are real, and will come to inhabit the object," he said.

Powerful symbolism
"To be a proper woodcarver you must be aware of the power of symbols, the styles and the designs as well as the history behind the art."

The master woodcarver has also compiled two comprehensive books titled Book for Learning to Draw and Sculpt by Yourself, parts I and II, both of which contain blueprints and grids of drawing scales for common Khmer design motifs and have been endorsed by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. In 2000, the Ministry awarded him a certificate designating him a Master of Khmer Fine Arts.

As for Chen Sim's students, many study for years under his tutelage either at Norton University or the Royal University of Fine Arts, or at his workshop at Arts of Khmer Angkor.

Nationwide input
"My students come from all over Cambodia, from every province," he said. "They are keen to learn woodcarving and sculpture in order to preserve and carry on this aspect of Khmer culture, and because it can be very lucrative. Many return to their home provinces after they have mastered the art and set up their own shops, distributing their works to shops throughout Cambodia."

Wooden statues at shops along Street 178 range in value, from US $3.00 for a small wooden apsara at Arts of Angkor up to US $20,000 for a life-size wooden elephant at nearby Kosal Gallery. Prices vary depending on size, quality of wood and the skills of the carver.

As Chen Sim walked around the workshop giving tips to the diligent students, he stopped at one young carver working on a wooden reproduction of the famous statue of Jayavarman VII and said: "Very nice; almost perfect!"

The student swelled with pride and continued his work with extra vigour, smiling broadly as he did so.