Thursday, 22 April 2010

Seeking status

Photo by: Pha Lina

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:01 Pha Lina

Khmer Krom asylum seekers on Wednesday gather outside the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Phnom Penh in the hope that the agency will intervene on their behalf. The agency has said that it cannot involve itself in the case of the asylum seekers, many of whom came from Thailand in December.

Delving into an old murder

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A photo in the home of Chea Mony shows the body of his brother, Chea Vichea, a labour union leader, after he was shot and killed at a newsstand on Street 51.

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I was much more interested in who was behind the murder and who gave the ok.
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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:03 James O’toole and Meas Sokchea

Documentary seeks answers about the killing of union leader Chea Vichea

CHEA Vichea spent the morning playing with his daughter, studying his Khmer-English dictionary and plucking his moustache before deciding to leave his Phnom Penh home and pick up a copy of the day’s newspaper.

“I watched him from the balcony as he left,” Chea Vichea’s wife, Chea Kimny, tells director Bradley Cox. “I got up and went to the kitchen. Suddenly, I felt like something kicked me in the chest.”

Cox arrived at the newsstand outside Chamkarmon district’s Wat Lanka just minutes after Chea Vichea was gunned down on January 22, 2004, and his footage from the scene makes for some of the most powerful moments of his new documentary, Who Killed Chea Vichea? Local police struggle to maintain order as journalists and frenzied onlookers surround the fallen labour leader, his blood spilled over a copy of that day’s Koh Santepheap newspaper.

Cox travelled to Cambodia to cover the contentious 2003 elections, and stayed to pursue the story of Chea Vichea’s murder. In a one-hour film screened for the Post on Wednesday, he draws on interviews with witnesses and public figures to document the investigation of what has become one of the Kingdom’s most infamous political killings in recent years.

As outrage mounted in the days following Chea Vichea’s death, police arrested two men – Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun – and charged them with the killing. They were convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison at a 2005 trial that was widely derided for failing to meet international standards.

Chea Vichea’s family has insisted since the arrest of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun that the pair are not responsible for the crime, a claim that came closer to vindication last year when the Supreme Court ordered their release after almost five years in prison, pending a new trial.

Interviews with the men’s friends and relatives in the documentary corroborate their claims that they were nowhere near the crime scene at the time of the murder.

Chea Mony, who has taken his older brother’s place as president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, threatened earlier this year to organise a strike if the government did not make progress in the case. He maintains that Chea Vichea was murdered because of his status as a union leader, and expressed doubt that the truth of what happened will ever come to light.

“I think there is no chance to find justice for Chea Vichea under the current government – I have no belief at all,” Chea Mony said Wednesday. “Is it the government’s will to find the killers, or is a powerful person involved in this murder?”

Although Chea Mony had not yet seen the film himself – Cox says plans for international distribution are still in development – he said relatives in the US had told him it presented a “frightful” depiction of Cambodian politics.

“This is not a tale – it is a true story,” Chea Mony said. “This film just wants to inform other countries, particularly free, democratic countries, that we can have no confidence in the Cambodian justice system.”

In August, the Appeal Court announced a new investigation in Chea Vichea’s case and said that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are to remain free until a verdict is handed down. Appeal Court deputy president Choun Sunleng said Wednesday that investigation duties have been dispatched to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Court President Chiv Keng said that an investigation is in progress, but declined to comment further.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Chea Mony was entitled to express his views on the case, though he noted that the investigation of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun is ongoing.

“If he does not believe [the investigation], it’s up to him,” Khieu Sopheak said of Chea Mony. “Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun’s release is temporary – it is not final.”

Fatal consequences
Though the website for Who Killed Chea Vichea? touts the film as “a highly charged murder mystery”, Cox said viewers expecting a straightforward whodunnit story will be disappointed.

“In making the movie, I was never particularly interested in finding out who actually pulled the trigger,” Cox wrote in an email on Wednesday.

“I was much more interested in who was behind the murder and who gave the OK. Based on the evidence and reasonable deduction, I think the movie goes a long way in answering this.”

Though the film makes no direct accusations about Chea Vichea’s death, it paints a damning picture of law enforcement under Prime Minister Hun Sen, portraying former national police chief Hok Lundy and former municipal police chief Heng Pov as the government’s ruthless enforcers.

“When they needed a job done, Hok Lundy would call men like Heng Pov to a meeting,” one anonymous former police official tells Cox. The man says he committed “many” murders on Heng Pov’s orders, and adds: “Afterwards, we’d feed the corpse to the crocodiles.”

An anonymous former government official tells Cox that the judiciary is controlled in similarly hierarchical fashion.

“There isn’t a single judge who is independent.... If a judge makes a decision on his own, the consequences could be fatal,” the official says.

In footage from a press conference held shortly after Chea Vichea’s murder, Heng Pov briefs reporters on the status of the investigation, identifying the owner of the Wat Lanka newsstand as the only witness in the case before catching himself and hastily ordering reporters not to write about her.

“If you want to help Chea Vichea, don’t mention the news seller,” Heng Pov says.

That woman, Va Sothy, has since stated publicly that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun look nothing like the two men she saw commit the murder. She now lives in the United States after being granted asylum – Chea Vichea’s wife and family have successfully sought asylum in Finland – and she tells Cox that the presence of a man on a mobile phone near the crime scene – suspected by onlookers to be an undercover police officer – suggested to her official involvement.

“I heard him say, ‘The work is done,’” Va Sothy says.

Unbowed by threats
Cox said he hopes the film, which premiered last month in the US at the Frederick Film Festival in Maryland, will be broadcast in the US and other countries later this year. Considering its politically charged content, he was not optimistic that the Cambodian government would allow him to distribute the film here, though he said he hopes residents of the Kingdom eventually have access to it.

In its early moments, Who Killed Chea Vichea? contains footage from an interview with its titular figure. With his slight build and nasal voice, he does not make for an intimidating presence, but his resolve is clear as he describes the history of death threats against him.

“I think they want to kill me because of my experience in the past,” Chea Vichea says, adding: “I’m not afraid. If I’m afraid, it’s like I die.”

PM says Kingdom ready to fight terror


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:03 Cheang Sokha and Irwin Loy

CAMBODIA is prepared to send trained counterterrorism police abroad to fight global threats, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday, a statement that drew praise from international partners even as they expressed concern about Cambodia’s own “porous borders”.

Speaking at the opening of the new headquarters for the secretariat of the National Counterterrorism Committee (NCTC), the premier said Cambodian personnel are ready to cooperate with other countries as part of joint operations to fight terrorism.

“If necessary, Cambodian forces could join in operations with international partners in fighting against terrorism. Cambodia is ready to join in all operations,” Hun Sen said.

“The government of Cambodia considers terrorism to be most cruel; it causes the deaths of all races of human beings.”

Cambodian police officials have received counterterrorism training in recent years, but so far have not participated in specific operations. Hun Sen compared such a step to Cambodian armed forces’ demonstrated willingness to participate in United Nations-led peacekeeping missions.

Hun Sen also called on authorities to boost training in counterterrorism measures as well as efforts to prevent domestic attacks, though he acknowledged that the Kingdom is not considered a “major destination” for such strikes.

“Cambodia is prepared to fight against terrorism for the protection of the Cambodian people,” he said.

Hun Sen’s comments provide further evidence of his continued public eagerness to participate in international counterterrorism efforts.

But although the premier’s focus on terrorism may be worthwhile, said one analyst, it remains unclear whether it can be truly effective, or if it is designed merely to solicit the approval of the international community.

“On one hand, I’m not sure how effective these measures will be, whether the money is going to be well spent,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. “There tends to be a lot more form than substance in Cambodia, and this could be one example.”

And Cambodia’s interest in counterterrorism may not stem solely from a fear of specific threats, suggested a report released last year by RAND, a US think tank.

“Cambodia has been an eager US partner in the global war on terror, an engagement that is motivated less by any inherent concern about the threats posed by international terrorism and more by a desire to reintegrate the state into the international community,” the report stated.

The Kingdom’s “ardent” support, the report notes, has been rewarded with the inflow of hundreds of thousands of dollars in US Department of Defence funding.

‘Minimal’ threats
Although Cambodia possesses “many of the attributes of a terrorist-friendly nation”, including lax border control and corruption, international threats in the country remain “minimal”, the report stated.

This has been attributed to Cambodia’s willingness to crack down on suspected extremists while taking care not to trigger backlashes in disaffected communities.

However, the report warned that the Kingdom remains hindered by “pervasive and endemic corruption”, unimplemented legislation on money laundering and a poorly financed financial investigation unit.

“Until these gaps are addressed, Cambodia will remain susceptible as a potential springboard for harbouring and facilitating terrorist ... designs,” the report stated.

However, representatives from foreign embassies whose governments have been involved in training Cambodian forces on Wednesday welcomed what they saw as a sign of commitment to improving counterterrorism measures.

“Terrorism is a threat throughout the world,” Fiona Cochaud, deputy head of mission for the Australian embassy, said in a statement.

“The Australian Government welcomes Cambodia’s commitment to strengthening its capacity to deter and manage the threat of international terrorism.”

US authorities also welcomed Hun Sen’s stance, though they noted that domestic concerns remain.

“The Cambodian government has been a strong partner in terms of counterterrorism,” US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said in a statement. “Cambodia’s porous borders are a concern not just for terrorism but also in terms of transnational crime and narcotics trafficking. We are therefore engaged with the Royal Government at all levels to help strengthen Cambodia’s maritime and land border security.”

Police Blotter: 22 Apr 2010


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:01 Sen David

FIANCÉE DISAPPEARS ON WEDDING DAY
A 52-year-old Cambodian-American man is desperately searching for his intended wife following her mysterious disappearance on the day the happy couple was to wed. The man reported his fiancée missing Sunday in Battambang town. The man told police he came from abroad to marry his Khmer sweetheart because he loves her very much and she agreed to get hitched. But the woman somehow disappeared Sunday. Police speculated that the woman must have been robbed or forcibly taken away by someone, somewhere. Police are on the case.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

DECORATING MISHAP LEAVES MAN DEAD
A man has died after he was electrocuted while trying to set up festive lights for a family party. The 27-year-old man’s mother said her son was decorating the house in anticipation of the shindig. But he died after touching some lights, and his mother speculated that her son’s hand must have been wet when he touched an electric wire. Battambang police said the man was careless for touching the wire after it had rained and the land was soaked with water. The man’s family tried to rush him to hospital, but doctors could not save his life.
DEUM AMPIL

RAPE VICTIM WANTS CASH FROM ACCUSED
A 20-year-old woman who said she was the victim of rape has demanded US$2,500 in compensation from her accused assailant. Police in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district said the suspect admitted to raping the woman, telling them that he loved the victim, but that the victim’s family did not love him, so he decided to rape her. The victim’s friend said the victim was a factory worker whose roommate was out the day she was assaulted. The friend said she helped the woman file a complaint to police.
DEUM AMPIL

MAN SHOOTS SELF TO PREVENT ARREST
A 32-year-old man accused of theft killed himself with his own gun when cornered by police, officials in Kampong Cham reported. Police said they received a complaint from a local woman that the accused thief had stolen her motorbike and escaped. Police caught up to the suspect and intended to arrest him. But the man, seeing that he had nowhere to go, pulled a gun and fired on himself. He died at the scene. Police said the man was “very clever” because he had managed to rob and steal several times. The person who filed a complaint to police said the man robbed her at gunpoint. Her motorbike has been returned.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

Family says police shot young man on purpose


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:03 Mom Kunthear

THE family of a 22-year-old man who died from bullet wounds sustained during an altercation with police last week in Kampong Cham province has filed a complaint with two rights groups alleging that the officers shot at him intentionally.

Ham Kim Yory, 28, the older sister of the victim, Ham Vanda, said the complaints were filed with Adhoc and Licadho on Wednesday.

“They shot my brother three times for no reason while he was sitting in front of the house with his wife and friends. The two police came and accused my brother of stealing a necklace,” Ham Kim Yory said. She said her brother had denied the theft.

She said she knew of witnesses who would support her version of events, but Prack Bun Nun, the police chief of Ponhea Krek district, where the shooting occurred, said Ham Vanda had struggled with the officers, causing the gun to fire.

“Actually, my police didn’t want to shoot him, but the gun was triggered one time and the bullet entered his neck while the victim tried to fight to get the gun from the police,” he said. He added that the police had been tipped off that Ham Vanda stole the necklace.

“The courts can find justice and decide which side is right,” he said.

Neang Sovath, the provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said one way to solve the case would be to examine Ham Vanda’s body to determine whether he had been shot three times, as his family contends, or just once.

A complaint has not yet been filed with the provincial court, he said.

Ly Yong Phat given land in national park


Ly Yong Phat

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:03 Cheang Sokha

THE government has granted more than 4,000 hectares of protected national park land in Koh Kong province to an agriculture company owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, who has been at the centre of several land disputes stemming from controversial land concessions.

In accordance with a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and dated March 12, Ly Yong Phat’s company, the LYP Group, has been given a 10,000-hectare Koh Kong land concession, 4,100 hectares of which cuts into Botum Sakor National Park.

Ly Yong Phat confirmed Wednesday that he had received the concession, but said he had not yet finalised development plans for the site.

The senator’s companies have previously been awarded concessions in Koh Kong, Kampong Speu and Oddar Meanchey provinces that have led to fights with villagers who accused the companies of impinging on their land.

In Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey, those concessions led to mass evictions, and villagers in Kampong Speu are currently embroiled in a dispute with Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company.

Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring for the rights group Adhoc, said the decision to grant the senator another concession was inappropriate in light of the ongoing dispute in Kampong Speu’s Thpong district.

“The concessions are meant to develop and help the people, but we see that many people have suffered from the concessions,” Ny Chakrya said.

Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant for the rights group Licadho, said national parks are supposed to be protected, but that protected areas had been opened up by other recent land concessions. In February, for example, Hun Sen granted 1,650 hectares of Ream National Park in Preah Sihanouk province to the Hong Kong Research Investment and Development Consulting Group.

Nhil Thun, director of Botum Sakor National Park, could not be reached Wednesday, and provincial Environment Department Director Kao Sinthuon said he didn’t know about the Koh Kong concession.

Sen Sok residents demonstrate against drainage project plans

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A spray-painted marking shows the area that must be cleared to make way for a drainage project in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, which residents say could affect the homes of 600 families.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:02 Khouth Sophakchakrya

MORE than 100 residents of Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmei commune on Wednesday gathered outside the Phnom Penh residence of Prime Minister Hun Sen to protest plans for a drainage system that they said could affect the homes of some 600 families.

A representative of the protesters also handed a complaint signed by 129 residents to Nov Ra, an official in Hun Sen’s cabinet.

The protest was staged after local authorities brought bulldozers to the site, leading residents to suspect that work on the drainage system would begin soon.

Yim Sokhom, 58, one of the protesters, said the project – which is set to widen the road by 35 metres – would lead to the partial destruction of some homes and the total destruction of others, and that no compensation had been offered.

“We are very worried because the authorities brought the bulldozers and spayed red spraypaint on our houses and said they would make the drainage system,” Yim Sokhom said.

Sok Gech, another protester, said residents had asked authorities to widen the road by only 15 metres, adding: “We need justice from the prime minister, because only he can help.”

Nov Ra could not be reached.

Khoung Sreng, Sen Sok district governor, said the drainage system would curb flooding resulting from heavy rains, and that the families had built their homes on public land, meaning they would not be entitled to compensation.

Influenza: Bird flu death confirmed by government


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:02 Cheang Sokha

Influenza

A 27-year-old man from Prey Veng province’s Kampong Leav district died late last week after contracting the A(H5N1) virus, known as bird flu, officials said Wednesday. According to a press release issued by the Health Ministry and World Health Organisation, the man died on April 17 as a result of ‘‘respiratory complications’’ four days after he became ‘‘sick at home with high fever’’. His was the 10th confirmed human case of bird flu since the virus was first detected in Cambodia in 2004, and the eighth confirmed death. “Avian Influenza H5N1 is still a threat to the health of Cambodians,” Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said in Wednesday’s statement. “I urge communities to be on the lookout for sick poultry and report poultry die-offs to the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries hotlines, so that they can be investigated before people start to get sick.” Officials said in February that thousands of ducks and chickens in Takeo province had died from the disease, though no human cases were reported. Since 2003, there have been 494 confirmed cases of avian influenza in humans worldwide, with 293 deaths.

Police confiscate tuk-tuks due to ‘anarchic’ behaviour

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Tuk-tuks ride along Sisowath Quay near the Royal Palace on Wednesday.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:02 Chhay Channyda

DAUN Penh district police on Wednesday morning confiscated about 15 tuk-tuks that were parked along Sisowath Quay after accusing their owners of turning the vehicles into around-the-clock homes and engaging in “anarchic” behaviour, a district official said.

“We do not want them to park their tuk-tuks along Sisowath Quay, because it makes the road smaller and affects the feeling of tourists,” said deputy district governor Sok Penhvuth.

“They even hang mosquito nets on the tuk-tuks when they sleep. And they also play cards. It is anarchic. Those things affect the reputation of the city, so we have cleared them for public order,” he added.

Sok Penhvuth also said that district police had driven down Sisowath Quay shortly before Khmer New Year to inform drivers via loudspeaker that a crackdown was imminent.

He said the tuk-tuks would be held at the district office until their owners came for “education” and signed an agreement that they would not sleep on Sisowath Quay again.

However, Vann Sitha, one of the tuk-tuk drivers whose vehicle was confiscated, said the drivers hadn’t been sleeping along the riverside in the first place, and that police had taken the tuk-tuks without telling them what they had done wrong.

He said the police had confiscated a total of 27 tuk-tuks, all of which were parked on Street 108 when police arrived.

Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democratic Informal Economy Association, a group that represents more than 3,000 motorcycle and car taxi drivers as well as tuk-tuk drivers in four provinces, said that drivers who do sleep in their vehicles generally don’t park along or near the riverside until the early hours of the morning, and that therefore they do not affect traffic or tourists.

“If this is an issue of public order, the authorities should forgive them because they do not sleep or park in the daytime. They are poor, so they work day and night,” Vorn Pao said.

Sok Penhvuth said that, as part of the effort to make Daun Penh district more appealing to tourists, authorities had on Wednesday also detained 40 “vagrants” and 14 “gangsters”.

Health complaints lead officials to close KCham battery plant


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:02 Tep Nimol

OFFICIALS in Kampong Cham province on Wednesday ordered the closure of a Memot district factory created to melt down batteries for the production of lead, after members of more than 100 families living nearby said pollution emitted by the factory had negatively affected their health, the governor of the district said Wednesday.

Chek Sa Om said local officials had met to discuss the matter on Wednesday and had decided to revoke the factory’s licence.

“More than 200 families from two nearby villages have been affected by the smog coming out of the furnace, which uses acid to melt batteries for lead—which produces an unpleasant smell,” he said. “Villagers requested that we stop that furnace from operating. We could not object to their request, so we decided to close it down.”

He said that public health experts had previously been sent to examine the factory’s furnace as well as the health of local villagers, and had determined that the furnace was emitting harmful pollutants.

“The furnace operators didn’t object to shutting down after we came to them with what we found, because they acknowledge that the smog they were producing was the cause of these problems,” he said.

Factory manager Bin Kea could not be reached Wednesday.

Chork Roth, one of the residents who complained to the government and NGOs, said local villagers had reported a wide range of health problems that they attributed to the factory, which began operating its furnace four months ago.

“The smog mingled with the air, which made villagers suffer from shortness of breath, tension in the chest, vomiting, skin allergies, stomach aches and diarrhea,” Chork Rath said. He added that residents had not reported these ailments with any regularity before the furnace began operating.

Neang Sovath, the Kampong Cham coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said his organisation had received requests from more than 100 families asking for assistance in shutting the furnace down.

He added: “Experts and all officials involved should be careful when considering issuing operating licences to any projects or companies because they could potentially harm the environment and the health of residents in a bad way.”

Officials no-show for land talks


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:02 May Titthara

OFFICIALS in Kampong Speu province’s Thpong district failed to show up on Wednesday for a meeting scheduled with villagers involved in a land dispute with the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, exacerbating suspicisions that they are primarily interested in arriving at a resolution that favours the company.

On Tuesday, villagers from Omlaing commune met with officials including Deputy Provincial Governor Pen Sambou and Thpong District Governor Tuon Song to discuss setting boundaries between their farmland and land granted to the company, which is owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat.

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I am worried [the officials] tricked us to get our thumbprints.
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Media personality Soy Sopheap, a commentator on Bayon TV, took charge of the talks and ordered villagers to provide details about the size and location of their farmland, and then asked them to thumbprint a document.

Officials said they would return to the village on Wednesday to take information from villagers who failed to attend the first meeting, but by 4pm no officials had shown up.

San Tho said he and his fellow villagers are now concerned that officials will change the text of the document to make it look as though they agreed to sign away their land to the company. “I am worried they tricked us to get our thumbprints,” he said.

Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said he suspected that Tueday’s meeting had been “only an excuse to get the villagers to open National Road 52”, which they had blocked in protest since Monday.

Pen Sambou, Tuon Song and and Omlaing commune chief Hab Dam all declined to comment on Wednesday, and Ly Yong Phat could not be reached.

E Timor, Cambodia similar: Ramos-Horta


Photo by: Pha Lina
East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta speaks in the capital on Wednesday

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:02 Will Baxter

JOSE Ramos-Horta, the president of East Timor, touched on topics ranging from the prospect of peace to the importance of combating climate change during a speech at the University of Cambodia on Wednesday, during which he also drew parallels between Cambodian history and that of his own country.

In comments that spanned an hour, Ramos-Horta said that Cambodia’s and East Timor’s pasts shared “tragic similarities”, arguing that both countries had been victims of genocide, armed conflict and the fallout of the Cold War-era.

“[East Timor] is a footnote of the cold war,” he said, adding: “I wish we had the political stability of Cambodia.”

Ramos-Horta, who is on his third visit to the Kingdom, said it was regrettable that world leaders had not learned more from the devastation wrought by World War II.

“If you look at the statistical data since World War II, tens of millions of people have died in conventional warfare,” he said.

“Soon after World War II, we had Cambodia”, he added, referring to the civil war in the 1970s.

He went on to question whether it was realistic to hope for world peace. “Is peace realisable in our lifetime? I would say probably not. But I do not give up on humanity,” he said.

Ramos-Horta said that acts of “humanity”, including the international community’s response to the earthquake in Haiti in January and to the December 2004 tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean, had given him reason for optimism.

However, he bemoaned the fact that there were still numerous ongoing wars spurred by “different motivations”, and asserted that many of them are based on “ignorance”, which he said underscored the need to educate children about “tolerance”.

“There are no shortcuts, no instant solutions to conflicts. Our country … is one such example,” he said, referring to East Timor’s tumultuous path to independence.

Looking ahead, he said Asia has the opportunity to lead the world on issues such as climate change, poverty eradication and sustainable development, and suggested that Asian nations develop a fund to address these and other issues.

He also predicted that East Timor would be able to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by 2012 if it is able to maintain peace and sustain development.

“Otherwise,” he joked, “why would the ASEAN countries want another problem? Don’t they have enough?”

Eang Sophalleth, a spokesman for Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Wednesday that during talks held following the speech, the premier had pledged his support for East Timor’s ASEAN bid.

Each leader also agreed to send delegations to the other’s country to explore economic, trade and agricultural opportunities, he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA

Suspected madam held after raid


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:01 Chrann Chamroeun

A WOMAN suspected of running a prostitution ring since 2007 was placed in pretrial detention Wednesday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, two days after her rented apartment in the capital’s Daun Penh district was raided, district officials said.

Police arrested 38-year-old Nin Saran and briefly detained two male customers and three prostitutes during Monday’s raid at the apartment in Srak Chork commune, said Sin Sitha, head of the National Military Police’s Anti-human Trafficking Bureau, who led the operation.

Sin Sitha said that while being questioned by police Nin Saran had admitted to running an exclusive, appointment-only brothel.

“According to testimonies from Nin Saran, she had rented the apartment for [US$400] per month since 2007, with a business of providing sex,” he said. “The prostitutes told us that they voluntarily had sex with customers for US$5-10, and shared half of the profits with the owner.”

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The prostitutes told us that they... had sex with customers for US$5-10.
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He added that the raid took place after an investigation that lasted several months, and that the three prostitutes swept up in the raid had been sent to the municipal Social Affairs Department for “education”.

Investigating Judge Chaing Sinat said Nin Saran’s trial date had not yet been set.

“We have ordered the woman to serve a pretrial detention under the charges of aggravated procurement of prostitution under the human trafficking law, pending a further investigation,” he said.

In March, Prime Minister Hun Sen in a speech urged officials to increase their efforts to eliminate illegal gambling halls, brothels, nightclubs and karaoke parlours.

In the speech, delivered on International Women’s Day, Hun Sen lambasted high-ranking officials who he said had been guilty of “misconduct” and had been intentionally thwarting efforts to reduce “human trafficking”.

The speech prompted a series of raids on brothels in Phnom Penh and in the provinces. Some NGOs have expressed concern that the raids are sending a marginalised group – sex workers – further underground.

Capital fire extinguished

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Firefighters douse an apartment fire in Prampi Makara district on Wednesday. The fire caused US$7,000 worth of damage before it was extinguished.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:01 Thet Sambath

A FIRE in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district on Wednesday caused US$7,000 worth of damage in one apartment before it was extinguished by municipal firefighters.

Net Vantha, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Fire Department, said the fire had been caused by a light that was left on by the apartment’s owner.

“The fire was caused by a faulty electric light,” he said, adding that four fire engines arrived at the scene to douse the small blaze.

“It’s good for everyone that we got there so quickly and stopped [the fire] on time, because this apartment is connected to other flats, and it could have spread. We had cooperation from the residents and authorities,” he said.

Lon Sinath, the 45-year-old apartment owner, expressed remorse for having left the light on. “I apologise to my neighbours for putting them through this. This was an accident. I don’t know exactly how or why the fire happened because I wasn’t home at the time,” he said. “I don’t have anything left because of this fire. The only thing left is the apartment itself.”

He estimated that the damage totalled $7,000.

Revisiting the Wat Po killings

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Kurt Volkert describes the events that led to the deaths of nine of his colleagues in May 1971 during an interview at Raffles Hotel Le Royal on Tuesday.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:01 David Boyle

War correspondent recalls the events that led to the deaths of nine colleagues

Working as a cameraman for CBS in May 1971, Kurt Volkert did something that under different circumstances he would have considered unthinkable: He told his boss that a story wasn’t worth the risk.

The next day, he and a group of stunned fellow journalists sat by the pool at Hotel Le Phnom, mourning those killed in the most ill-fated expedition undertaken by journalists covering the war in Cambodia.

Today, more than two dozen journalists who covered the war will visit the site where five of their colleagues died that day, May 31, 1971. Four others were killed at a separate location the following day in a related incident of violence.

Sitting poolside at the same hotel on Wednesday, Volkert told the story he helped unearth of how they lost their lives nearly four decades ago.

Journalists here exposed themselves to extraordinary dangers. What was the primary motivation to do that: the competition, the pressure of your bosses, pure gung-ho enthusiasm or a simple desire to pursue stories?
I think it’s a combination of all. There was a desire to get the story out, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this job.

But there was also competition, and what we call the mahogany foxholes in New York certainly did exert pressure. And if the competition – I’m talking about television now – NBC or ABC would have a better story, then we would get what’s called a rocket from New York; you know, we would get hit by this rocket.

We beat the others, and they beat us. And there certainly was an aspect of competition, an aspect of adventurism and an aspect of professionalism. I think these things did come together, but competition certainly did play a role and should.

Can you take us through the events of Wat Po?
The CBS crew ignored the last warning by a Cambodian roadblock maybe 10 or 15 kilometres out of town. That wasn’t atypical, because sometimes these roadblocks knew less than we did. But the CBS crew came upon a small stream and a wooden bridge that was destroyed. That actually should have been the cause for all bells to start ringing: Stop now, don’t go any further.

But the CBS correspondent crew, for reasons known only to God, took the jeep with the correspondent and the drivers, the interpreter, and to have a cameraman he took the freelance Indian cameraman who had a silent camera, and bypassed the broken bridge and went down and got back onto the highway after the bridge.

They went down another 500 meters and there was a team of [Viet Cong] and Khmer Rouge – I don’t know what exactly the makeup was – infantrymen with a rocket-propelled launcher. And they hit the jeep with that rocket-propelled grenade. It killed all of them except the correspondent. He staggered out, and he was gunned down.

In the meantime, the CBS Mercedes with the Japanese camera crew waited before the bridge. They couldn’t ford the little stream. And then NBC came upon them, and then they were all captured by the advancing Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge troops and taken to Thnal Bat, which is a few miles down the road from Baeng Ksain.

They were kept overnight in a teacher’s house, and early in the morning they were driven in the NBC Opal, I think, to Wat Po ... and they were led 500 yards west of Wat Po into a bamboo grove, and I was told that the village idiot from Kandal, which is a little village between the turnoff and Wat Po, he beat them to death. They had to kneel down in a circle, and ... they were beaten to death by the village idiot.

When we found them 22 years later, we found holes in their skulls up front.

You’ve spoken before about how strange it must have seemed to Cambodians to see you coming back in 1992 looking for the remains of five people when so many people died here. Can you elaborate on that?
The Cambodian villagers were great. First of all, there was an economic side to it – they had a job for a month. The army hired people carrying buckets and digging and doing all kinds of supportive work there, and I think they were well-paid.

I think it was hard for them to understand that in a country where you had a holocaust killing millions of fellow citizens, that we would care so much for the remains of five people. I think that was a learning process to go through for them, that we showed so much respect and interest to recover these remains.

In the end there was a very good relationship. Even in ’92, it was still a bit of a dicey area and we had about 100 Cambodian soldiers guarding the whole digging operation. And we rewarded them well for it.

But the villagers, I think, went through their own process, from shaking their heads that we cared so much about five people in a country where millions died, until they came around to thinking every life is worth something, and it just cannot be just thrown away the way it was during the Cambodian holocaust.

Interview by David Boyle

Volcanic ash cloud impacts Cambodia's hotel bookings

Smoke billows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland on April 16, 2010, sending an ash cloud sweeping across northern Europe. AFP

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:00 Sam Rith

Flights are set to resume, but local hotels lost up to 15 percent of customers

THE giant volcanic ash cloud which caused travel chaos throughout the world reduced hotel bookings in Cambodia by between 10 and 15 percent, Tourism Minister Thong Khon and the Cambodian Hotel Association said Wednesday.

As some flights from Asia resumed Wednesday after a six-day lock down on air travel to and from northern Europe, the Kingdom is counting the cost of the eruption from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano – which began on April 14 and thrust vast plumes of potentially dangerous ash into the sky.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon told the Post that the ash cloud “really impacted the tourism sector in Cambodia. It impacted some hotel [bookings] by about 10 percent”.

He pointed out that Cambodia has more than 300 hotels and over 20,000 rooms.

The observation has been reiterated by top representatives of the hotel industry. Luu Meng, president of the Cambodian Hotel Association (CHA), said Wednesday: “I estimate about 10 to 15 percent of hotel rooms throughout Cambodia have been cancelled due to the volcanic [ash] cloud.”

Visitors from northern Europe – where the cloud grounded flights for nearly a week – account for a significant percentage of Cambodia’s tourists.

In 2009, according to Ministry of Tourism statistics, 10.87 percent of visitors to Cambodia came from the UK or France. Last year, the tourist sector garnered US$1.561 billion in revenue, according to Director of Statistics and Tourism Kong Sophearak.

Ang Kim Eang, president of Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), confirmed Wednesday that some tourists from European countries could not get to Cambodia, as airlines cancelled flights because of safety fears. He could not say how many people were affected.

However, the end of the crisis seems to be in sight.

Abdul Karim Md Isa, area manager for Malaysia Airlines' representative office in Cambodia, confirmed that the airline restarted flights to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt Wednesday.

CHA President Luu Meng and Tourism Minister Thong Khon predicted that tourists from European countries would arrive in Cambodia at normal levels within the next ten days.

“I do not worry much [about the impact] because it is just short term,” said Thong Khon.

He added that he did not want such incidents to occur too often this year, as it would put in jeopardy Cambodia’s goal of attracting 2.4 million tourists in 2010.

In the first three months of this year, the number of arrivals increased around 9 percent compared to the first quarter of 2009, he said.

The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines said the region's carriers had bled about $40 million a day during the crisis, AFP reported Wednesday. The International Air Transport Association put global airline losses at about $270 million a day.

Battambang shopping mall nearly complete


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:00 Soeun Say

BATTAMBANG’s first shopping mall is set to open its doors by the end of the year, after a Cambodian investor put US$10 million towards setting up the retail centre.

President of the Federation of Cambodian Rice Millers Associations Phou Puy is owner of the still-incomplete 1,500-store Battambang Shopping Mall, which is being built in the provincial capital.

“Construction is about 90 percent complete. We’re doing the interior design and will open in the end of the year,” Phou Puy said Wednesday.

The retail space is set to include elevators and be air-conditioned, Phou Puy explained. He added: “We don’t have anybody to compete with us. It is the first shopping mall in Battambang town.”

The four-storey complex is being built along National Road 5 in O’char commune. Shops are set to be put on sale for up to $5,000 per unit, with payment at $50 per month.

“This is our strategy to attract clients to buy space at our mall,” said Phou Puy, who is also President of Battambang Chamber of Commerce and Director of Cambodia’s biggest paddy buyer, Baitang Kampuchea Plc.

Sung Bonna, President and Chief Executive Officer of Bonna Reatly Group and President of the National Valuers Association of Cambodia, said Wednesday that he expects the new mall to be able to attract buyers. “The main points needed to attract clients are good management and decoration,” he said.

Lao Tip Seiha, director of the Construction Department of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that the ministry approved a licence for the mall in 2008.

“We will be proud to have the first shopping mall in Battambang city,” he said. The government hopes that the shopping mall will both create jobs and boost the local economy.

Millicom's revenues soar 16 percent in Q1


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:00 Ellie Dyer

MOBILE company Millicom International Cellular CA announced a 16 percent revenue surge in the first quarter of 2010, compared with the same period in 2009, following the sale of US$346 million worth of Cambodian assets late last year.

Millicom sold a majority stake of Mobitel to Kith Meng’s Royal Group after a strategic review of its Southeast Asia assets.

It also sold interests in Royal Telecom International Co Ltd and Cambodia Broadcasting Service Co Ltd.

The sell-down of a bridging loan that covered the acquisition was launched in March by ANZ Royal and Standard Bank.

In its first-quarter report released Tuesday, Millicom showed strong growth on its operations in South America and Africa.

Basic earnings per common share grew to $1.43 from $1.29 last year.

Global revenue grew to $905 million, from $779 million in the first quarter of 2009, a figure that excluded results from its former assets in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone.

President and CEO of Millicom, Mikael Grahne, said: “We have made a good start to the year and continue to execute our strategy successfully. We added 1.2 million new customers in the quarter as we continued to gain market share.”

“Cash generation continued to be strong, with operating free cash flow of $234 million representing 25.9 percent of revenues and all regions generating positive cash flow,” he added in a press statement which accompanied the quarter one report.

As the group is looking to develop markets in countries such as Chad and Guatemala, the fate of one of its former interests has yet to be resolved.

The business intended to sell a 74.1 percent holding in Millicom Lao Co Ltd to Russian-based firm Vimpelcom, which is the parent company of Cambodian operator Beeline.

The report stated that an agreement had not been completed, despite “all conditions” being met.

“Millicom is reserving its rights under the terms of the agreement, including the right to seek compensation for any loss of value that arises as a result of Vimpelcom’s decision not to complete,” the report stated.

The authors of the report also confirmed the company’s intention to proceed with the sale of its Laos operation.

Toyota safety fault delays imports

A Toyota vehicle dealership in Stockport, northwest England, on March 26, 2010. Some Cambodian imports have been put on hold after yet another car recall. AFP/Andrew Yates

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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:00 May Kunmakara

Stability concerns lead Cambodia’s dealer to push back its 2010 order of Land Cruiser Prados

CAMBODIA’S sole Toyota dealer has delayed imports of Land Cruiser Prados until their safety can be assured, following a world-wide recall by the Japanese car manufacturer.

Phnom Penh-based TTHK Co Ltd, which exclusively imports the brand to the Kingdom from Japan, has put its 2010 order of the model on hold.

Toyota recalled 21,000 Land Cruiser Prado SUVs in left-hand drive countries Tuesday, after tests found problems with their Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) systems.

It also recalled 13,000 Lexus GX 460 sport-utility vehicles because the model can roll over in certain driving conditions. Heavy components, such as the fuel tank, are located on the left side.

In left-hand drive versions, the imbalance is exacerbated by the presence of the driver.

TTHK President Kong Nuon said Wednesday: “We have never imported Lexus GX 460, so we don’t care about it.

“But after we got confirmation statement [from Toyota head office], we delayed our importations of the Land Cruisers we had already ordered.”

He said that the ordered Prados are being kept in stock in Singapore, ready to go under repairs to fix their VSC systems.

Toyota Motor Corporation released a statement Tuesday that said: “As a remedy, Toyota will update the VSC program to enhance the effectiveness so that the risk of the vehicle sliding, even to the point that it is almost sideways, will be reduced.”

“We will wait for the system to be made safe then we will import for sale,” added Kong Nuon, who declined to state the number of Prados vehicles he had ordered.

The president said that no other Toyota models which have been sold in Cambodia are relevant to the recall.

Despite the global concerns about Toyota, which has been issued about 10 million recall notices in the past seven months, sales in Cambodia remain strong.

TTHK sales improved by 10 percent in quarter one, compared to the first quarter of 2009. Last year, according to Kong Nuon's estimate, TTHK sold 70 percent of all brand new cars in the country. This year, he plans to sell between 600 and 700 vehicles.

The company has imported SUVs such as the Fortuner, passenger cars like the Corolla, and commercial vehicles such as the Coaster in the past.

Toyota's latest recall has not affected stock price. In Japan Wednesday, Toyota ended 0.41 percent up.

The rise came two days after the automaker accepted a fine of more than $16 million for covering up accelerator pedal defects on some of its cars.

Hip-hop, graffiti art invade the Night Mkt


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Thursday, 22 April 2010 15:00 Roth Meas

KLAP Ya Handz production company will present an event called Rise Up! this Saturday, April 24, at the Night Market in Phnom Penh, featuring hip-hop musicians, DJs and graffiti artists both Cambodian and foreign.

Sok Cream Visal, the executive producer and founder of the Klap Ya Handz, said the event was aimed at providing entertainment as well as inspiring young Cambodians to invent their own music and art styles.

“Many famous DJs and hip-hop musicians, both Cambodians and foreigners, will get together on Saturday and perform songs in which most of the rhythms and lyrics are their own original compositions,” he said.

“Everybody who will perform at the event has worked separately so far in Cambodia. They have rarely worked together, so Rise Up! will bring them together to help promote our songs and our rhythms,” said Sok Cream Visal. Among the musicians slated to perform are DJ Khlang, DJ Kdeb, Adda, Angry Woebot, DJ Illest and DJ Gang.

Visal said that although hip-hop music did not originate in Cambodia, he thinks the music form can develop in the country in harmony with traditional culture.

“Local performers take the rhythms of hip-hop music and mix them with Cambodian musical styles, and this will help inspire young people to start composing their own music and songs in the local style rather than eliminating Cambodian culture,” he said.

“The style of dancing is actually hip-hop, but the rhythms are definitely Cambodian. The local musicians insert some melodies from Cambodian songs from the 1960s into their music,” said Visal.

Besides the musical performances, three foreign artists will create street art and graffiti near the stage within view of the audience.

Visal said that although graffiti art is popular in Europe and the US, it has not yet caught on in Cambodia.

“Rise Up! is helping to bring this kind of art to Cambodia. We want young people in Cambodia to see it because we think the strange and colourful paintings will give them new ideas about art and creativity,” he said.

Rise Up! will also provide audience members with the opportunity to take part in a free-rap competition. Anyone is welcome to sign up at the Night Market from 5pm to 6pm on the day of the event.

Rise Up! will be held from 3pm to 12 midnight on April 24 at the Phnom Penh Night Market on Sisowath Quay.

Lynn mayor's newest aide a bridge to Khmer community



Kiririath “A.J.” Saing poses outside of Lynn City Hall Tuesday. (Item Photo / Reba M. Saldanha)

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By Laura Paine/The Daily Item

LYNN - For more than 20 years, Lynn has been home to the third largest Khmer community in the United States, but until nearly a month ago it did not have representation in the Mayor’s office. Kiririath “A.J.” Saing saw the Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy’s Administration as a chance to change that.

“The community wanted to do something about it with the new mayor coming in because, in the previous administration, we didn’t go anywhere further than a ‘hi’ or ‘hello,’” Saing said. “When I walked into Mayor Kennedy’s office about a month ago and met with her chief of staff, Claire Cavanagh, and addressed this concern from the Southeast Asian community. To my pleasant surprise, they opened up.”

Saing has been living in the U.S. since 1982. He spent two years in Kampuchea learning the Khmer language and continued researching and studying on his own in the years after his move, which enables him to work as the mayor’s Southeast Asian liaison.

“The people and the language are called Khmer, the country is actually Kampuchea, but somehow we became known as Cambodia and Cambodian, and the country just accepted that,” Saing said. “If you go to Kampuchea, my homeland, in Khmer it will say Kampuchea and in English it will say Cambodia. I just wanted to point out that Khmer is the right terminology.”

He said the Khmer people wanted to have their issues addressed, but because of language barriers, they did not know who to talk to. In fact, he said many did not know that City Hall was a public building.

“Mainly, I put the face in the office so they now feel that there is a Southeast Asian person in the Mayor’s office when they could go up there and meet with me to address their issues,” Saing said. “They do have issues, generally, for the Cambodian community. It is mainly the deportation issue.”In 2002, President George W. Bush signed a deportation law between the United States and Cambodia. Since this happened, Saing said that families will sometimes have a member of their family being deported. Due to a lack of representation, they do not know where to turn to prevent it.

“We have no leadership voice, no associations,” he said. “All we have is what I call a Khmer Professional, and what that is is a group of Khmer people like myself who work for different agencies. When a situation happens in the community, they would call any one of us and then all of us get together to see what we can do. We direct them to find a lawyer that would fit with that and then we would help them communicate it with a (state) representative and work with them to ask for a letter of support, and then I act as an interpreter for language services and go from there.”

Saing said Khmer families also have trouble navigating the public schools and helping children complete their homework. In Cambodia, he said a teacher is viewed as a parental figure, which is a major cultural difference.

Saing also lends a helping hand in his position as Union Hospital’s manager of interpretive services and community outreach, where it is his goal is to build a bridge between the Southeast Asian community and the hospital.

“I view my life now as the saying, ‘I am at your service,’” Saing said. “I want to say, on behalf of the Southeast Asian community in Lynn, that we are living here and we do want to work and build that relationship with the Mayor’s office. We never really got to that until Mayor Kennedy was elected and we do want to work with any agency that thinks we can do anything to support, and vice versa. We want to work as a community and show our support, but due to the lack of English and not knowing how to navigate within the system, just came to a stop. We have the desire but not the path. Hopefully, through the Khmer Professional, we can open up a way for the next generation that can work effectively with the community at large.”

The United States of America Launched a Program of Accountability in Governance and Politics – Wednesday, 21.4.2010

http://cambodiamirror.wordpress.com/

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Posted on 22 April 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 661

“Phnom Penh: The United States of America launched a Program of Accountability in Governance and Politics with US$16.2 million to promote accountability and transparency in the Cambodian government.

“The program was launched on 20 April 2010 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Phnom Penh, and it was chaired by the Minister of the Council of Ministers, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, and by the US Ambassador to Cambodia, Ms. Carol A. Rodley.

“The United States Agency for International Development [USAID] developed this Accountability in Governance and Politics 5-year program, aimed at assisting Cambodia by encouraging the government to be responsible for implementing their policies through: 1. Strengthening of accountability, transparency, and broad access to information; 2. Creation of modern leadership; and 3. Support for the electoral systems.

This program will provide US$7.2 million to the International Republican Institute from 2009 to 2014, concentrating on consolidating the capacity of civil servants and of officials of political parties through the analysis of public surveys and through the creation of effective strategies for decision making.

“This program also offers US$6.08 million to the National Democratic Institute for increasing transparency over decisions of the government, and for further strengthening the access to public information about policy formation.

“The program also provides US$2.29 million to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to strengthen the understanding of politics and the participation by women in government positions.

“Ms. Carol A. Rodley said that democracy in Cambodia is young, but it has progressed much since the first elections in 1993. She added that the United States of America hopes to cooperate with related institutions of the government, with civil society, and with all political parties to strengthen democracy in Cambodia. She went on to say, ‘I am exited about the extensive consolidation of skills and of experiences that these organizations have contributed to Cambodia, with which they can implement the projects at their areas. I believe that we will see positive results within five years.’

“On the same occasion, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An highly assessed USAID for initiating and for funding this crucial program, and he hopes that it will contribute to promote the understanding and the participation of citizens in creating and implementing various policies that are more accountable and more transparent, so as to lead to a broader implementation of democracy in Cambodia.

“He added that the projects to be implemented are also consistent with the political program of the Royal Government that is encouraging the participation from all circles in the process to establish policies, in project organization, and in different decisions made by the Royal Government through consultations to ensure a balanced progress in Cambodia. The Royal Government clearly stated that civil society and non-government organizations are important partners for economic and social development, as well as for the strengthening of democracy and the respect for human rights in Cambodia.

“He hopes that these projects will be implemented equally and faithfully by the three organizations, according to their goals, in order to join with the Royal Government to strengthen democracy, development, and the implementation of polices to further develop the economy and the society.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5177, 21.4.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Wednesday, 21 April 2010