A Change of Guard

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Sunday, 31 August 2008

Don't Go There

By Elizabeth Becker
Sunday, August 31, 2008

Did you manage to find someplace for your vacation this summer where you could get away from it all and immerse yourself in nature, or whatever it is that you like to do with a free week or two?

I didn't think so.

It's getting harder and harder. The world has shrunk -- and the tourist legions have exploded. The streets of Paris and Venice are so crowded that you can barely move. Cruise ships are filling harbors and disgorging hordes of day trippers the world over. Towering hotels rise in ever-greater numbers along once pristine and empty beaches.

Thanks to globalization and cheap transportation, there aren't many places where you can travel today to avoid the masses of adventure- or relaxation-seekers who seem to alight at every conceivable site. I used to love going back to my old haunt in a Himalayan hill station where, as a student in India in 1970, I climbed those steep, silent paths and watched langur monkeys swinging in the trees outside my window. No longer. Now, Moussurie is chock-a-block with tourist lodges, garbage and noise; the monkeys are fleeing.

This problem goes far beyond a veteran traveler's complaint that things aren't the way they used to be, or annoyance at sharing the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal with thousands of other photo-snapping tourists loudly asking questions in languages the locals don't understand. What's happening today is of another magnitude.

The places we love are rapidly disappearing. Global tourism today is not only a major industry -- it's nothing short of a planet-threatening plague. It's polluting land and sea, destroying wildlife and natural habitat and depleting energy and natural resources. From Asia to Africa, look-alike resorts and spas are replacing and undermining local culture, and the international quest for vacation houses is forcing local residents out of their homes. It's giving rise to official corruption, wealth inequities and heedless competition. It's even contributing to human rights violations, especially through the scourge of sex tourism.

Look at Cambodia. The monumental temples at Angkor and the beaches on the Gulf of Thailand have made that country a choice destination, especially for Asians, who spent $1 billion there last year. But the foundations of those celebrated temples are in danger of sinking as the 856,000 tourists who every year crowd into Siem Reap, the nearby town of 85,000, drain the surrounding water table.

Meanwhile, Cambodia's well-connected elite has moved to cash in on the bonanza, conspiring with police and the courts to evict peasants from their rural landscape, which is being transformed by high-end resorts catering to wealthy visitors. Cambodia's League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights is compiling files that bulge with photographs of thatched-roof houses being burned down while police restrain their traumatized owners. And at night along the riverfront in the capitol of Phnom Penh, the sight of aging Western men holding hands with Cambodian girls young enough to be their granddaughters is ugly evidence of the rampant sex-tourism trade.

All this came as a shock to me. I've been writing about Cambodia for more than 35 years, but I never considered tourism there a serious subject. But when I went back last November, I couldn't avoid the issue. In three short years, tourism had transformed the country. In every interview, the conversation wandered toward tourism, its potential and its abuses. When I went up to Siem Reap, I found the great hall temple of Angkor as crowded, as a colleague said, as Filene's Basement during a sale. Forget tapping into any sense of the divine.

I began researching the global tourism industry and why journalists have allowed it to fly under the radar. Newspapers, the Web and the airwaves are filled with stories celebrating travel; few examine the effects of mass tourism. As Nancy Newhouse, the former New York Times travel editor, told me: "We never did the ten worst [places to visit], only the ten best."

Most people can't imagine that tourism could be a global menace. Even the word "tourism" sounds lightweight. And travel has always been surrounded by an aura of romance. For centuries, beginning with the first tourists on holy pilgrimages, travel has been about adventure and discovery and escape from the pressures of daily life.

It wasn't until the end of the 20th century that tourism was added to the list of industries measured in the U.S. gross domestic product. And the results were a revelation: About $1.2 trillion of the $13 trillion U.S. economy is derived from tourism.

Tourism has become the stealth industry of the global era. According to the United Nations, the international tourist count in 1960, at the dawn of the modern era of air travel, was 25 million. By 1970, the figure was up to 165 million. Last year, about 898 million people traveled the globe, and the international tourism industry earned $7 trillion. (And those figures don't include people who vacation in their own countries.)

The U.N. World Tourism Organization was established as a special agency five years ago with the twin goals of keeping track of the tourism industry and figuring out how poor countries, in particular, can take advantage of the tourist boom without causing their own ruin. Geoffrey Lipman, the assistant secretary general of the new organization, has spent his life studying the industry. "Tourism," he told me, "is arguably the largest cluster of industrial sectors in the world" and needs to be included in any international discussions about eliminating poverty or protecting the environment. If properly conducted -- maintaining respect for a country's environment and culture, providing local jobs and a market for local goods -- tourism, the United Nations believes, is easily the best way for a poor nation to earn foreign currency.

There are several promising examples of this philosophy at work. The nonprofit British National Trust offers tourist rentals in restored cottages and historic mansions and then uses the money to buy more land and properties to preserve and protect. The African nation of Namibia, meanwhile, has created what it calls "community-based tourism," which manages more than 25 million acres of wildlife preserves, opening much of the land to tourism -- hunting or photo safaris, birding and white-water rafting -- that employs local residents and has dramatically reduced poaching.

Most of the tourism industry, however, is heading in the opposite direction. Tourism is now responsible for 5 percent of the world's pollution, according to a recent study. Cruise ships are one of the biggest culprits. These floating hotels create three times more pollution per passenger mile than airplanes. Years of cruises have helped spoil the water of the Caribbean, which, according to the United Nations, absorbs half the waste dumped in the world's oceans. Now these ships are venturing into already fragile polar waters. Last year, Norway banned all cruise ships from visiting its region of the Arctic Circle.

Beach erosion has been swift. After the South Asian tsunami in 2004, fishermen were told to move their homes away from the beaches, but luxury hotel chains with clout were allowed to rebuild near the water's edge. In the United States, the upswing in violent hurricanes hasn't put a dent in the number of vacation homes being built by the sea. "Essentially every tropical island is in danger," the National Geographic Society's Jonathan Tourtellot told me.

In poorer nations, unregulated tourist developments have put unbearable strains on scant resources, especially water. High-end tourists often waste more water in a day with multiple daily showers and toilet flushes than some local families use in a month.

Then there's the fear that over time, major tourist destinations will become virtual ghost towns. Residents of Venice went on strike last spring to block licenses for more hotels; the city of canals is now so expensive that many locals have been pushed out, helping cut the permanent population nearly in half. This summer, the British government issued a report on rural living that included a serious warning that the rich were buying so many vacation or second homes in the countryside that many local residents couldn't afford to live in their villages anymore.

But of all the ills brought on by mass travel, none is as odious as sex tourism. The once-hidden trade is now open and global, with ever-younger girls and boys being forced into prostitution. The Department of Justice estimates that sex tourism provides from 2 to 14 percent of the gross national incomes of countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The United States has taken a lead in attempts to eliminate sex tourism, but otherwise, it has stayed out of the tourism debate, mostly viewing tourism as a private matter. Now, however, says Isabel Hill, director of the Commerce Department's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, the questions raised by mass tourism have become too large to ignore. She hopes that the United States, like so many European countries, will "recognize our limitations and how we have to regulate our resources."

Still, there probably won't be a U.S. secretary for tourism and the environment anytime soon. But don't be surprised if the next international agreement on climate change mentions the role of tourism, or if some countries start regulating tourism along with the environment, because the two go hand-in-hand.

In fact, you'd better hope that they do -- if you ever again want to find that cool vacation spot where you can get away from it all.


Elizabeth Becker, the author of "When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution," studied media coverage of tourism at Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

Of Cloth And Gold

  • (Photo courtesy: ANDREW NETE/ IPS Asia-Pacific/ AsiaNews)

1 of 2

Getting decent jobs for women in Cambodia is a challenge.

“Women are cloth, men are gold.” This traditional Khmer saying is quoted by many studies on gender in Cambodia as emblematic of the different value accorded to men and women in this country of 14 million.

But it takes on a different perspective in Cham Choa district and other areas of Phnom Penh, the heart of the country’s garment industry.
Rooming houses, shacks and apartment blocks intermingle with large nondescript factory buildings. Legions of mainly young female workers mill around stalls selling produce, toiletries and clothing.

These women are part of a major shift in the Cambodian economy over the last decade as employment opportunities slowly move from agriculture to new industries such as services, garment export and construction.

Cambodia’s women are at the forefront of this transition.

According to the soon to be released Cambodia Gender Assessment (CGA), produced by the ministry of women affairs, Cambodia’s female labour force participation rate is high by regional standards, at 71 per cent of the working age population over 15 years of age.

"When you talk about increasing women’s participation in the labour force, you have to be very specific about what kind of participation you are talking about."

This is compared to 64 per cent in Thailand, 56 per cent in Laos and 87 per cent in Viet Nam. “More than 50 per cent of the active female population contribute to the economy of their country,” said Dr Ing Kantha Phavi, minister for women’s Affairs, in an interview with IPS. “The problem is that this (contribution) is still mainly in the informal sector.”

“The challenge Cambodian women face is not just to access employment, but decent, better paying employment.”

While the majority—83 per cent —remain self-employed or unpaid family workers, new employment opportunities for women have opened up, particularly in the garment industry, which accounted for 1.4 percent of total female employment in 1998, rising to 5.5 per cent in 2004.

This is part of what many believe has been a gradual positive shift in the situation of Cambodian women over the last decade. “Positive trends towards greater equality include increasing girls enrolment in primary education (and resulting rises in female literacy) and expanded employment opportunities,” the World Bank’s 2007 Cambodia Report noted.

Observers believe much of this progress is the result of sustained, if highly uneven, economic growth over the last few years. Poverty levels fell, according to the Bank, by 47– 5 per cent between 1994 and 2004.

At the same time, years of war and civil conflict have left Cambodia’s health, social and economic indicators among the worst in Southeast Asia.

As part of this, women continue to face serious economic, legal and social barriers, which the Bank says are part of a broader institutional bias against the poor and marginalised.

“Significant traditional inequalities persist and new ones are emerging,” said the Bank, reinforced by lower standards of education and prevailing attitudes regarding what are ‘appropriate’ occupations for women.

The plight of the garment sector illustrates the broader challenge in creating sufficient employment for Cambodia’s rapidly growing labour force.

According to the CGA, approximately 62 per cent of the total population and 44 per cent of the labour force is under 25 years of age. Of this group 55 per cent are women.

It also demonstrates the difficulties of safeguarding the economic gains made by Cambodian women, which remain fragile.
Approximately 90 per cent of employees in the garment industry are women.

Despite maturing since the 1990s, the sector remains plagued by lower levels of productivity than its key competitors. The largely untrained female workforce is overseen by mainly foreign middle managers.

The recession in the US—the market for 70 per cent of Cambodia’s garment exports—is only one of many problems. Others include skyrocketing power prices, poor infrastructure and high compliance costs.

In developing countries like Cambodia, the garment sector often kick-starts industrialisation and is the precursor to the arrival of other manufacturing such as food processing, before itself relocating to other, lower-cost countries. Even a minor downturn would have major economic implications.

“If textiles goes, you’ll have 300,000 people employed today on the road tomorrow, not to mention supporting businesses large and small, including mine, that would also be in trouble,” said Paul Thomas, director of the freight company, Flow Forwarding Cambodia.

Some estimate up to a million people are either directly employed in the industry or depend on the pay packets of those who are.

Despite generating billions in foreign investment, Cambodia’s weak regulatory and legal frameworks and corruption are significant barriers to long-term sustainable growth.

According to Thomas, the government has given little thought to investment in alternative industry in Cambodia beyond garments and agriculture that could provide sustainable employment opportunities.

“The attitude is very much ‘let foreign businesses come and do it’, but no work has been done on paving the way and targeting what investment they want,” he said.

“To raise their participation in formal employment and decision-making institutions, women need skills and information about how markets and the law function,” said Phavi.

“When you talk about increasing women’s participation in the labour force, you have to be very specific about what kind of participation you are talking about,” said Chea Vannath, a regular commentator on social and political affairs.

“Are you talking about the informal sector where women are already heavily represented? Or 8am to 5pm professional jobs?”

“We are not going to increase women’s participation in professional jobs until we have things like adequate child care facilities, care for older people and salaries that keep up with the cost of living.”

Two of the most significant barriers to increasing women’s participation in the workforce are their education and health status.

While Phavi maintained the government had made progress, the Cambodian Gender Assessment said Cambodia continues to have some of the weakest health indicators in the region.

“In order to participate in economic activity and contribute to the economy you have to be healthy,” she said.

“The high rate of maternal mortality, while declining, is a real concern and a real challenge. We need to look at why, with all the aid we have received, this has not decreased more in the past.”

“This is also a cultural problem. The woman is the last to get medical attention after the children and the father. They are in bad shape by the time they come (to the doctor).”

More immediate and obvious implications for the future employment and earning capacity of women is their educational status.

While the CGA noted progress at attaining gender parity at the primary school level, overall levels of education remain low for the nation generally and women in particular.

Although enrolment rates and gender parity “have improved at all levels of education … the female share of enrolment drops at each higher level of education”, it said.

Approximately 40 per cent of women aged 25-44 are illiterate (vs 22 per cent for men). Although improving in younger age groups, 23 percent of young women aged 15-24 are illiterate (vs 16 percent of young men).

“The Cambodian government is committed to increasing education opportunities for women at all levels, from primary school to university, during the next five year mandate,” said Phavi.
A particular focus is on increasing access to vocational education.

“We have some vocational training centres now but not enough and they are not responding to demand. This is important in the context of the garment industry, which we not only want to stay (in Cambodia), but to value add and not just use labour.”

In the absence of job opportunities in Cambodia, increasing numbers of Khmer women are choosing to work overseas, mainly in Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea.

“We are not sure about the exact numbers but they are significant,” said Phavi. “Although we are concerned about the conditions some of these women face overseas, we (the government) encourage labour migration due to the level of local unemployment.” (By ANDREW NETTE In Phnom Penh/ IPS Asia-Pacific/ AsiaNews)


Maha Ghosananda's Biography
Maha Ghosananda's Website

The late Maha Ghosananda (pictured) of Cambodia proved the healing power of wisdom and compassion


There was some inexpressibly cool and unhurried sense of peacefulness that exuded from the man. The year was 1997, November 5 to be exact. I was attending an inter-faith conference at a small town about an hour's drive from Phnom Penh. He was there among the crowds who came to give their blessing to the opening of the auspicious event. I felt something special about this frail but ever-smiling monk although I couldn't tell why. "Oh, that is Venerable Maha Ghosananda; he is very famous in Cambodia," whispered Buddhist scholar Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, urging me to interview him.

So I did. But as obliging as Maha Ghosananda was with a then green-horn journalist like me, I found it extremely difficult to write an article on him. He talked very little about his personal life, which Acharn Chatsumarn (who was later ordained as Bhikkhuni Dhammananda) said was so fascinating. Throughout the brief conversation I had with him, Maha Ghosananda would make extensive references to "dharma" - the importance of keeping oneself aware of the rising and ebbing away of mental phenomena, pleasant or not, how to constantly cultivate loving-kindness toward every sentient being, and last but not least, how not to cling to anything. I accept the truth of the adages, but they were, well, (given my ignorance at the time) hard to put in a newspaper.

His name, and that mysteriously cool aura, has however been an enigma for me. Every now and then I would come across some mention about or by him. He has been called the "Gandhi of Cambodia", the "Buddha of the Battlefields", and in the words of the late Dith Pran (whose life inspired the film The Killing Fields), the "dreamkeeper" of his homeland. In the 1990s, King Sihanouk conferred on him the special title of "Leader of Religion and Peace", and later "International Patriarch". He received numerous awards for his peace activism, including being nominated a few times for the Nobel Prize. His dharmayietra (literally "Pilgrimage of Truth") movement, which he initiated in 1992 with friends from different denominations, has since been carried on in his homeland, and later adopted elsewhere, including in Thailand (albeit totally different from the one recently staged during the dispute over the Preah Vihear world heritage site). In the late '70s, he helped set up hut temples at the refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian borders, and later to rebuild temples and provide education to hundreds of monks and nuns in Cambodia (it was estimated that of about 65,000 monastics, only 3,000 survived the Khmer Rouge era). He also founded over 30 home-based temples in North America, Europe and Australia for the Cambodian migrant communities there.

The more I learned about Maha Ghosananda's biography and the tortuous history of Cambodia, the more I appreciate and marvel at his ability to remain unperturbed, so refreshingly serene in the midst of raging fires.

I would have the same question once raised by Benedictine monk James Wiseman: "Looking at the Venerable Ghosananda, one has the impression that not only his smile, but his whole body is radiant. It seems as if his skin has been washed so clean that it shines. One can only wonder what this man has seen, what he has experienced of the terrible killing fields in his home country (considering that all the members of Maha Ghosananda's family died under the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot).

"One thing however is obvious: Whatever his experience has been, it has brought forth extraordinary growth in the spiritual life."

Of his early years, there is sketchy, rather scattered information. His date of birth varies - it was some time in the 1920s - depending on the source. It was reckoned, though, that Maha Ghosananda's potential may have been recognised not long after his ordination, for he came under the tutelage of Venerable Chuon Nath, later appointed to be the Supreme Patriarch and a key leader of the reformist movement in Cambodian Buddhism in the early 20th century.

In 1951, he left for a study at Nalanda University in India (where he would be eventually granted a PhD which he jokingly translated as "Person Has Dukkha" - suffering). Importantly, while in India, Maha Ghosananda had an opportunity to learn about the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence with Nichidatsu Fujii, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and the founder of Nipponsan Myohoji, a Japanese Buddhist order dedicated to world peace.

After his time in India, Maha Ghosananda reportedly travelled extensively to different temples throughout Asia, returned to Cambodia briefly before a long spell of residence in Thailand (the exact number of years is not known). It was said he studied Vipassana (insight) meditation with Ajahn Dhammadaro in Nakhon Si Thammarat, but an obituary written by his long-time friend Sulak Sivaraksa last year also mentioned reformist monk Buddhadasa as another mentor of Maha Ghosananda.

It was at this very juncture in Thailand where all the years of dharma practice came to fruition. At a forest monastery in the South, Maha Ghosananda heard news about the series of tragedies that beset his homeland: The American bombing raids, which dropped over 2.7 million tonnes of bombs and killed an estimated 600,000 Cambodians, the successive changes of regimes and ensuing bloodshed, the brutal genocide of the Khmer Rouge ...

A biography written by American monk Venerable Santidhammo described the tenacious struggle the Cambodian monk had to go through:

"He learned that his parents and all his brothers and sisters had been murdered. He was told, over time, of the death of many of his fellow monks and nuns. And of course, he said, he wept for so many losses. He wept for his country. He wept, he said, every day and could not stop weeping. But his teacher urged him to stop. Don't weep, he was told, Be mindful.

"Having mindfulness, his teacher said, is like knowing when to open and when to close your windows and doors. Mindfulness tells us when is the appropriate time to do things - you can't stop the fighting. Instead, fight your impulses toward sorrow and anger. Be mindful. Prepare for the day when you can truly be useful to your country. Stop weeping, and be mindful!"

We will never know how and for how long before the inner battle came to an end. By 1978, Maha Ghosananda embarked on a mission to bring peace to his fellow Cambodians. In an introduction to his only book, titled Step by Step - Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion, editors Jane Sharada Mahoney and Philip Edmonds related the monk's visit to a refugee camp in Sakeo. Amid the bleak and dilapidated atmosphere, Maha Ghosananda's presence was like a glowing candle that rekindled the spiritual warmth long suppressed by the protracted wars.

"In that moment," Mahoney and Edmonds write, "great suffering and great love merged. Centuries of Buddhist devotion rushed into the consciousness of the refugees. Waves of survivors fell to their knees and prostrated, wailing loudly, their cries reverberating throughout the camp. Many say that the Dharma, which had slept gently in their hearts as the Bodhi tree burned, was reawakened that day."

Maha Ghosananda himself would later stress the duty of socially-engaged Buddhists: "We must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to the Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettoes and the battlefields will then become our temples."

There is no discrimination either between ideologies or on the basis of past conflicts. Maha Ghosananda's temple huts catered to all refugees alike, including former Khmer Rouge soldiers. "We have great compassion for them because they do not know the truth," he later told film producer Alan Channer. "They suffer so much; they burn themselves. They want peace; they want happiness and Buddhism gives them peace and happiness.

"I do not question that loving one's oppressors - Cambodians loving the Khmer Rouge - may be the most difficult attitude to achieve. But it is a law of the universe that retaliation, hatred, and revenge only continue the cycle and never stop it. Reconciliation does not mean that we surrender rights and conditions, but rather that we use love in our negotiations. It means that we see ourselves in the opponent - for what is the opponent but a being in ignorance, and we ourselves are also ignorant of many things. Therefore, only loving-kindness and right mindfulness can free us."

It is a message that he would repeat the rest of his life. During the top-level talks between different Cambodian warring factions in France, Switzerland, and Indonesia, Maha Ghosananda led his contingency of monks, "the fifth army of peace", to open daily sessions with prayer and meditation; they implored the leaders to recall their Buddha nature, and reminded everyone of the power of non-violence. Sulak recalled the monk had personally asked him to seek holy water from the Supreme Patriarch at Wat Bowon Niwet in Bangkok to sprinkle on the Cambodian representatives - an initiative that was unanimously welcomed by all parties.

In her article on the dharmayietra movement in Cambodia, Kathryn Poethig wrote: "For Maha Ghosananda, the essence of Buddhist dharma is the practice of peacemaking. It requires skilful means, the ability to listen with compassion to the perspective of the one who has done you and others harm, and being mindful and selfless in negotiating a peaceful resolution to conflict."

Ingenuity and patience are certainly key. Maha Ghosananda often talked about how "wisdom and compassion must walk together. Having one without the other is like walking on one foot; you will fall. Balancing the two, you will walk very well, step by step."

In 1992, as the refugee camps were preparing to close with the planned repatriation of some 350,000 Cambodians, Maha Ghosananda and his friends from various faith groups launched the first dharmayietra. Over a hundred Cambodian refugees, escorted by international walkers including monks from Thailand, Sri Lanka and Japan, did the arduous 450km trek from the Thai borders back into their homeland. Every day, the returning Cambodians found their long-lost family members. By the time the band reached Phnom Penh, their number had swollen to more than a thousand.

The first few walks have been wrought with great difficulty. For the inaugural walk, most of the senior monks invited declined to join; it took a while to get permission from the Thai, Cambodian, and UN officials for the refugees to cross the borders. The subsequent ones fared no better; landmines and exchanges of gunshots and grenades between the Khmer Rouge and government troops were still the norm. During the third walk, in 1994, a skirmish caused by a misunderstanding ended with a monk and a nun killed, a few participants injured, and some taken hostage (though they were later released).

But the peace walkers did not waiver. For Maha Ghosananda, the dharmayietra was not a political demonstration - they discouraged any effort by public figures to co-opt the event - or a new innovation into Cambodian Buddhism. It was simply following the example of the Buddha, he cited, who long ago had walked right onto the battlefield in an effort to end a war and bring reconciliation to two hostile factions of his own clan.

The suffering of Cambodia has been deep.

From this suffering comes Great Compassion.

Great Compassion makes a Peaceful Heart.

A Peaceful Heart makes a Peaceful Person.

A Peaceful Person makes a Peaceful Family.

A Peaceful Family makes a Peaceful Community.

A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.

And a Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.

May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.

In Venerable Santidhammo's biography, moving accounts of those who participated in the walks reveal the beauty of humanity, if given a chance to grow. The dharmayietra heralded the end of the war, reunited families, inspired new vision. A number called the experience Dhamma Teak Tong, or "Dhamma Contact". For at that very moment, all the boundaries melt; any notions of "us" versus "them" are tossed away.

One local woman said: "We Khmer haven't seen peace for so long. We've never known it. Now seeing the monks and all these people walking makes me think they've come to teach us to love one another, to unite. When I see them I feel speechless. Maybe we will have true peace after all."

Due to his fragile health, by 2000, Maha Ghosananda could no longer attend the dharmayietra walks, which have since been done on more localised scales, with the themes ranging from environmental to human rights, Aids, and youth issues. According to Peter Gyallay-Pap, founder and executive director of the Khmer-Buddhist Educational Assistance Project (KEAP), the spirit of the monk has been carried on by his followers who seek "change in terms of actively following the middle path, not in social or political confrontation".

But will true transformation ever come? To Cambodia and the rest of the world? On the last page of his book Step by Step, Maha Ghosananda expressed his faith in the practice of mindfulness as "the only way to peace".

"Slowly, slowly, step by step," he urges. "Each step is a meditation. Each step is a prayer."

On March 12, 2007, Maha Ghosananda passed away at a temple in Lowell, Massachusetts, one of the many sanctuaries he had built for his fellow Cambodians around the world.

My old friend, Lee Kuan Yew

http://www.sacrava.blogspot.com/ depicts old friendship between Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.

Thai King

http://sacrava.blogspot.com depicts Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as the world's richest man. Read here.

The CPP & Its Tools

http://sacrava.blogspot.com depicts the National Election Committee (NEC) as a Cambodian People's Party's (CPP) tool.

U.S. dollar rises to 26-month high against British pound

NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) — The U.S. dollar rose to a 26-month high against British pound Friday and was mostly higher against other major currencies.

The British pound hit a 26-month low of 1.8171 dollars before trading to 1.8218 dollars late in New York Friday. The pound, lost almost 3.5 cents this week, has declined about 14 percent of its value against the dollar since its high in November.

The European Commission said that euro-zone inflation is down slightly from the record high of 4 percent in June and July. The euro rose to 1.4671 dollars late Friday in New York from 1.4702 dollars late Thursday.

Canada’s government reported its economy grew more weakly than expected in the second quarter and contracted more than had been thought in the first quarter.

The dollar rose to 1.0630 Canadian dollars from 1.0519 and it also rose to 1.1016 Swiss francs from 1.0994.

Oil moderately lower even though Gustav threatens Gulf of Mexico

NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) — Crude oil settled moderately lower Wednesday, as the stronger U.S. dollar offset concerns that Tropical Storm Gustav moved toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Light, sweet crude for October delivery declined 13 cents to settle at 115.46 U.S. dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures jumped as much as 3.17 dollars in early trading.
The forecast shows Gustav is escalating to be the largest hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico since Katrina and will make landfall in central Louisiana as a hurricane on September 2.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc are pulling workers from their Gulf of Mexico platforms and shutting production in a region that pumps 26 percent of U.S. oil and 14 percent of the nation’s gas.
However, oil retreated from the day’s highs and dropped after the U.S. dollar strengthened against euro and as some traders said energy producers are better prepared to face Gustav than when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

M.I.A. Comes Out Of Retirement

M.I.A. Comes Out Of Retirement
(Soundbuzz, Sunday August 31, )

British rapper M.I.A. has come out of retirement to record a new album. The star - real name Mathangi Arulpragasam - announced her retirement from the industry after cancelling her European tour in June. But she has promised fans a new album following the success of her single 'Paper Planes' which featured in the theatrical trailer for new movie Pineapple Express.

However, she is adamant she will never tour again. She tells Entertainment Weekly, "I stopped touring... and I didn't want to make music again. I was quite happy to just leave it all behind. I was happy with what I had achieved.

"Now, with the success of Paper Planes, there's pull for me to make another record. Even my mum believes in me more. It's a nice encouragement. But I was planning my life as a fishing woman on the outskirts of Cambodia. That's a joke." (soundbuzz:wenn)

Cirque De Obama

Mr. McCain (L) and Mr. Obama (R).

Election '08: Barack Obama says we can't afford four more years like the last eight. What, exactly, is bad about winning a war on terror, keeping Americans alive and free, and letting us keep more of what we earn?

We weren't expecting Sen. Obama to thank President Bush for keeping America and its citizens safe from terrorist attack since 9/11, or for winning the war in Iraq and bringing democracy to the heart of the Middle East.

But we hoped for more from The One than a proclamation that he had come to lift us out of the bondage of the Republican Dark Ages.

Delivered in a stadium with a corporate logo and built with capitalist profits, Obama's acceptance speech was workmanlike as promised, albeit staged on what looked like a movie set left over from the World War II propaganda film, "Triumph Of The Will."

Still, Obama's performance was enough to move Oprah Winfrey to tears. "I cried my eyelashes off," she said. It was enough to make us cry, too.

On Iraq, he said he'd "end this war responsibly." John McCain would end it in victory. Obama hid the fact that he opposed the surge that defeated the jihadist insurgency.

In January of 2007, Obama introduced legislation in the Senate to have all U.S. troops out of Iraq six months ago. Had we listened to him, there would no free and democratic Iraq today. We'd have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, as Democrats forced us to do in Vietnam, and the jihadist victory would have rivaled the killing fields of Cambodia. Our troops would already be home, their sacrifice in vain.

Obama pledged to "finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban," forgetting it was President Bush who took the fight to the enemy with Obama in opposition. The fight in Afghanistan isn't over. But Obama failed to explain why, as chairman of a subcommittee having jurisdiction, he held not a single hearing on a theater of operations he now deems critical.

On the economy, he said: "Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship our jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America." Yet he once proposed doubling the capital gains tax to punish the very risk-takers he now purports to champion.

When it was pointed out during a primary debate that higher capital gains taxes can generate less revenue and discourage economic activity, Obama mumbled something about "fairness." Thursday night, the code words were "mutual responsibility." But it's all about redistributing income.

We need more, not fewer, tax breaks. The average combined federal and state tax rate on corporations is now 50% higher than the average of our international competitors. At 39.3%, it's second only to Japan's. In some states, including California and Pennsylvania, it's the highest in the world.

The average European nation has tax rates on corporate income some 10 percentage points lower than ours. Ireland has a corporate rate of 12.5%. If you were a businessman, where would you locate?

"I will cut taxes -- cut taxes -- for 95% of all working families," Obama said, "because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class." Apparently Obama thinks you are "working" only if you produce perspiration, not inspiration. The fact is, he'll raise taxes on everything and everyone, directly and indirectly, open and hidden.

According to a study by the Heritage Foundation, letting the Bush tax cuts expire, as Obama intends, will reduce our annual GDP by $100 billion with the loss of up to 900,000 jobs. Over 10 years, taxes would increase by some $1.7 trillion. For the 116 million Americans paying taxes, that's an annual tax hike of about $1,800 a year.

Last year, Heritage analyzed the effect of eliminating the Social Security earnings cap, as Obama has also proposed. In the first year alone, the take-home pay of 10.3 million workers would be reduced by an average of $5,650. Taxes would also be raised on four million workers over the age of 50.

Taxes would also be raised on 3 million small-business owners. By 2015, the number of job opportunities lost would exceed 865,000 and personal savings would decline by more than $55 billion.

And if you think this would raise taxes only on the "rich," think again. According to Heritage, taxes would be raised for 97,065 carpenters, 110,908 police officers, 254,992 nurses, 208,562 post-secondary teachers and 237,000 dentists.

Eliminating the earnings cap would raise taxes for many middle-class families, impose a huge burden on small business, slow the economy and cost jobs. You don't help the people riding the wagon by punishing the people pulling it.

On energy, Obama said that "in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East" and that he "will tap our natural gas reserves." Yet he opposes drilling where huge amounts of oil and natural gas are to be found -- in locked-up areas such as ANWR, the Outer Continental Shelf and in federal lands out West.

He also said he will "find ways to safely harness nuclear power." But we already know the ways countries like France safely store and reprocess nuclear waste. John McCain wants to build 45 new nuclear power plants nationwide by 2030 to meet a demand for electricity that is expected to grow 25% by then.

"Sen. Obama has said that expanding our nuclear power plants 'doesn't make sense for America,'" McCain says. "He also says no to nuclear storage and reprocessing. I couldn't disagree more. I have proposed a plan to build additional nuclear plants. That means new jobs, and that means new energy.

"If we want to enable the technologies of tomorrow like plug-in electric cars, we need electricity to plug into," McCain said recently at Michigan's Fermi II nuclear power plant.

Obama also proved once again how wrong he is on foreign policy, taxes, the economy and energy.

"On Nov. 4," he said, "we must stand up and say, 'Eight is enough.'" But as far as we're concerned, it's just a start. Under a President McCain, the Obamas would be safer and more prosperous than if they themselves occupied the White House.

McCain picks 'hockey mom,' first-term Alaska governor as running mate

Sen. John McCain smiles after introducing his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in Dayton, Ohio on Friday. (Photo: AP Photo)

August 30, 2008
The New York Times
By Michale Cooper and Elisabeth Bumiller

DAYTON, Ohio — Sen. John McCain astonished the political world on Friday by naming Sarah Palin, a little-known governor of Alaska and self-described "hockey mom" with almost no foreign policy experience, as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

Palin, 44, a social conservative, former union member and mother of five who has been governor for two years, was on none of the widely discussed McCain campaign short lists for vice president. In selecting her, McCain reached far outside the Washington Beltway in an election year in which the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, is running on a platform of change.

"She's not from these parts, and she's not from Washington, but when you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am," McCain told a midday rally of 15,000 people in a basketball arena here shortly before Palin, with her husband and four of her children, strode out onto the stage.

Within moments, Palin made an explicit appeal to the disappointed supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton by praising not only Clinton but also the only other woman in American history who has been on a presidential ticket, Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's running mate for the Democratic nomination in 1984.

"Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America, but it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all," Palin said to huge applause. Palin and McCain then embarked on a bus tour across Ohio and north into western Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh, a route that took in a wide swath of the central battleground in this year's presidential campaign.

McCain's pick, Palin, who opposes abortion, played especially well among evangelicals and other social conservatives, who have always viewed McCain warily and who have been jittery in recent weeks because of reports that McCain was considering naming a running mate who favors abortion rights.

The McCain campaign sees her as a kindred spirit to McCain, particularly in her history of taking heat from fellow Republicans for bucking them on issues and spotlighting their ethical failings. Like McCain, her political profile is built in part on her opposition to questionable government spending projects.

But they differ on a number of policies. Palin opposed McCain on one of the most prominent Alaskan issues: She supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and McCain opposes it, much to the consternation of some Republicans. McCain's environmental policy accepts that global warming is driven by man-made pollution; Palin has said she is not convinced. A spokeswoman for Palin, Maria Comella, said, "Governor Palin not only stands with John McCain in his belief that global warming is a critical issue that must be addressed, but she has been a leader in addressing climate change."

Palin, a former mayor of the small town of Wasilla, an Anchorage suburb, first rose to prominence as a whistle-blower uncovering ethical misconduct in state government. Her selection amounted to a gamble that an infusion of new leadership — and the novelty of the Republican Party's first female candidate for vice president — would more than compensate for the risk that Palin could undercut one of the McCain campaign's central arguments, that Obama is too inexperienced to be president.

Democrats and at least some shocked Republicans questioned the judgment of McCain, who has said repeatedly on the campaign trail that his running mate should have the qualifications to immediately step into the role of commander-in-chief.

McCain's words on the matter have had more than usual resonance this year because of his age — he turned 72 on Friday, and hopes to be the oldest person ever elected to a first term — and his history with skin cancer.

Palin appears to have traveled very little outside the United States. In July 2007, she had to get a passport before she visited members of the Alaska National Guard stationed in Kuwait, according to her deputy communications director, Sharon Leighow. She also visited wounded troops in Germany during that trip.

McCain's announcement of Palin came in the immediate afterglow that Democrats were enjoying from their nomination of Obama, and for one news cycle at least, as Republicans intended, Palin effectively muffled the news coverage of Obama's acceptance speech to 80,000 people at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Thursday night.

Obama wished her well in a call from his campaign bus.

"He also wished her good luck, but not too much luck," said Robert Gibbs, a senior strategist to Obama.

Obama's fellow Democrats were considerably less welcoming, and most said they were flabbergasted by what they characterized as a desperate, cynical or dangerous choice, given Palin's lack of any experience in national security.

"On his 72nd birthday, this is the guy's judgment of who he wants one heartbeat from the presidency?" said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, who said the selection smacked of political panic. "Please."

McCain's advisers said Friday that McCain was well aware that Palin would be criticized for her lack of foreign policy experience, but that he viewed her as exceptionally talented and intelligent and that he felt she would be able to be educated quickly.

"She's going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he'll be around at least that long," said Charlie Black, one of McCain's top advisers, making light of concerns about McCain's health, which McCain's doctors reported as excellent in May.

Many conservatives said that the choice would energize them, giving McCain the support of a highly active group of voters and volunteers whose support was crucial to both of President Bush's victories.

"They're beyond ecstatic," said Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition.

Palin is known to conservatives for opting not to have an abortion after learning that the child she was carrying, her youngest, had Down syndrome. "It is almost impossible to exaggerate how important that is to the conservative faith community," Reed said.

The choice of Palin was reminiscent of former President George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle, then a barely known senator from Indiana as his running mate in 1988.

It was far from clear Friday whether adding a woman to the ticket would convince Clinton supporters to come over to the Republicans, given Palin's differences with Clinton on issues from abortion rights to her positions on health care and climate change. Some women said that the pick could be seen as patronizing, a suggestion that women would vote based on a candidate's gender rather than on positions. But others saw the choice of Palin as a welcome step.

"I think it's absolutely fantastic," said Kimberly Myers, a retired transit worker in Pittsburgh who had originally supported Clinton but who said that McCain's choice would win him her vote. "She's actually broken the glass ceiling."

As they began gathering in Minneapolis-St. Paul for the start of their convention on Monday, some Republican delegates said they were concerned that Palin did not have the experience in foreign policy or national security to be commander-in-chief.

"We're in a global war, we're in a global economy, so it's less than honest if someone says that this woman is qualified to lead America right now," said Todd Burkhalter, a Republican delegate from Mobile, Ala..

Her selection was kept secret until Friday morning, after the two men who had been rumored to be on McCain's short list, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, let it be known they were out of the running.

The McCain campaign said that McCain first met Palin in February this year at the National Governor's Association meeting in Washington and came away "extraordinarily impressed." But McCain apparently has spent little time with her.

Palin flew to Flagstaff, Ariz., on Wednesday evening to meet with two of McCain's senior campaign aides, Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter, said Jill Hazelbaker, a campaign spokeswoman. The group met at the Flagstaff home of Bob Delgado, the chief executive officer of Hensley Corp., the family business of Cindy McCain, McCain's wife.

After meeting with Cindy McCain there the next morning, Palin was brought to the McCain vacation compound near Sedona, where John McCain offered her a spot on the ticket at 11 a.m.

She flew to Ohio later that day with Schmidt and Salter, and checked into a hotel as the Upton family. Palin's children, who had been told they were going to Ohio to celebrate their parents' 20th wedding anniversary on Friday, were informed there that their mother would be the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Thursday evening she had a final meeting with McCain. One adviser suggested that although McCain was sure about his choice, he wanted to sit down with Palin one last time before he made what he knew would be an astonishing announcement the next morning.

As recently as last month, Palin appeared to dismiss the importance of the vice presidency in an interview with Larry Kudlow of CNBC, who asked her about her prospects for the job.

"I'll tell ya, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me, what is it exactly that the VP does every day?" Palin told Kudlow. "I'm used to being very productive and working real hard."

Cambodia, UN-FAO launch emergency project for farmers

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Cambodia and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are launching an emergency project through its Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) in Cambodia to help impoverished farmers boost agricultural production, said a joint press release received here Saturday.

The project is part of the FAO Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP) started in December 2007 and aims to boost the local food supply to soften the blow of soaring food prices, it said.

The FAO is focusing on immediate activities during this rainy season from July 2008 to Sept. 2008 and within the dry season from Nov. 2008 until Jan. 2009, so that by the next harvests there will be more food available locally at lower prices, it said.

In addition, the project is providing fertilizers, which are petroleum-based and thus out of reach of poor farmers as oil prices break new records every day, it said.

As the latest step of the project, a rice seed distribution ceremony to vulnerable farmers was held on Aug. 28 at Bati district, Takeo province, with the attendance of Chan Sarun, Cambodian Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as Omar Salah Ahmed, FAO Representative in Cambodia, said the press release.

For the medium and long term plan, the FAO aims at a more comprehensive assistance program towards agricultural development by focusing on increased productivities, irrigation and improving the storage, it added.

Editor: Bi Mingxin

Sri Lanka envoy for Cambodia genocide tribunal

From Neville de Silva in London

Sri Lanka’s new High Commissioner to London Nihal Jayasinghe left for Cambodia to sit on the UN-sponsored tribunal trying former leaders of the dreaded Khmer Rouge regime for crimes against humanity.

Nihal Jayasinghe, a former Justice of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court is one of three international judges sitting in the Supreme Court chamber, the highest tier of the three- layered tribunal.

Nihal Jayasinghe was sworn in as a member of the tribunal when he was a Justice of the Supreme Court and this is the first time he will be attending a meeting of the tribunal since his retirement from the Sri Lankan judiciary and his appointment as High Commissioner to Great Britain.

The other two international judges are Motoo Naguchi of Japan and Agnieszka Klonowiecka-Milart of Poland while four Cambodian judges make up the seven-member Bench that will hear appeals against convictions by the Trial Chamber.

High Commissioner Jayasinghe, who is due to return to London at the end of this week said that he is not due to present his credentials to the Queen until the first half of October. However he said that he has called on officials of the British Foreign Office and met with British parliamentarians and journalists besides members of several Sri Lankan organisations and associations here.

“My message to them has been that there is no quarrel or conflict between the Sinhala and Tamils communities. The conflict is with the LTTE, with a terrorist group,” Jayasinghe told The Sunday Times. He said that there is a misconception here that the Government and the Sinhala people are against the Tamil community and this had to be corrected.

Cambodia introduces new regulations for developers and real estate agents

Model of the 42-storey skyscraper to be built in Phnom Penh.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Cambodia introduces new real estate regulation

New regulations are being introduced in Cambodia to protect property investors from fraud as the country's real estate industry booms.

Developers will be required to deposit a sum with the National Bank of Cambodia before being allowed to begin construction on a project under new regulations aimed at curbing fraud.

Payments from buyers will be held in this account with the aim of making the whole payment system more transparent and avoid developers using money illegally. It will also allow the government to intervene if developers fail to honour their contracts.

Real estate agents and developers will have to obtain a licence from the Ministry of Economy and Finance to sell projects and face legal action and even closure if they fail to do so.

The new rules mean developers and agents must comply by the end of September, a spokesman for the Economy and Finance ministry said.

There will be costs to the developers and agents involved but officials believe this will deter cowboys. 'Real estate developers will be required to deposit 2% of the projects' total value at the National Bank of Cambodia,' said Mao Pao deputy chief of the ministry's real estate division.

'We will require a developer to open a housing development account at any commercial bank to enable buyers to make payments through the bank,' he added.

The price for the new licences for selling or renting will depend on the scale of the project. Until now developers only needed a letter of permission from the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction and an investment licence from the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

There are estimated to be around 100 developers currently operating in Cambodia, many of them quite small. Some said the new regulations will be too costly and put them out of business.

Capital Phnom Penh has undergone an unprecedented construction boom over the last several years, including a number of residential and commercial mega-projects that are set to transform the capital from a sleepy backwater.

Guide on traveling like a local in Cambodia

No, I haven't traveled like a local in Cambodia, but from how Tim Patterson describes it at Jaunted, my local travel in The Gambia sounds close. His line about both butt checks falling asleep at the same time brought back memories.

As one of his entries for the Embedded Travel Guide to Cambodia, a series where he blogs about his experiences staying in a guest house in Sihanoukville, Patterson describes the various ways one can get from point A to point B in that country. The emotions he highlights are shock, misery and exhilaration--perfect word choices for capturing the flavor of many of the experiences I've had while shouldering my way into a bush taxi, or bobbing along in ramshackle boat without a life jacket and the shore almost too far away to see.

For anyone heading to a place where transportation is an assortment of tuk-tuks, fishing boats, buses, bamboo rafts, regular boats, motorcycles, cyclos, regular taxis, pick-up trucks, or heaven knows what else--ox carts, for example, Patterson's guide is a great way to familiarize yourself with what's out there and how to play it safe as best you can.

Patterson's idea is you jump on, have fun, but know the risk. I second his emotions. Besides, you'll end up with some great tales to tell and you won't even have to embellish the details to make the stories more fantastic.

[Photo from Jaunted. Clicking on it brings you to Patterson's guide.]

Filed under: Arts and Culture, Blogs, Cambodia, Transportation, Travel Health

Saturday, 30 August 2008

S Korean student donates $6,000

Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

A South Korean student has raised and donated $3,000 each to the National Paediatric Hospital (NPH) and Centre for Children's Happiness (CCH) to help sick and orphaned children in Cambodia. Soo-ah Lee, who began raising the money 10 months ago in the United States, where she is studying, spent a few days in Cambodia last week to donate the money as well as stationery to the two organisations.

Hun Sen Nephew Sues Two of Opposition

29 August 2008

A nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen filed suit in Kandal provincial court this week, claiming he had been defamed by remarks of two opposition parliamentary candidates who accused him of assault.

Hun To's suit stems from an altercation on a ferry in Ponhea Leu district, Kandal, in which Sam Rainsy Party candidates Nuon Vuthy and Uch Sereyyuth said Hun To ordered his bodyguards to assault them.

Hun To has denied the accusation, and on Monday he asked the Kandal court to investigate the two men for defamation.

The alleged assault occurred during the campaign to the national election, when the two lawmakers say they were attacked by Hun To's bodyguards after they drove their vehicle off the ferry.

Nuon Vuthy said bodyguards Hun To's bodyguards punched him in the head and kicked Uch Sereyyuth after a confrontation on the ferry.

"If the court works at its procedure and is not under pressure from a powerful man, it would find the truth after it investigates," Nuon Vuthy said.

Kandal court prosecutor Ouk Kimsith confirmed receipt of the complaint.

"I have not taken any measures yet," he said.

He had also received a complaint from the two Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers of the assault and had referred that case to deputy prosecutor Koeurt Vannareth.

Hun To's lawyer, Yin Wengka, said Friday he had filed the complaint Monday.

"These two men defamed my client," he said. "What they said is not true. At that time, no bodyguard went with Hun To. At that time Hun To took one car with three people, traveling to Kampong Cham."

According to Cambodian law, defamation charges do not carry penalties of imprisonment, but do carry fines. Assaults can lead to a sentence of one to five years in prison.

Regime Survivor to Victims: Exercise Rights

29 August 2008

The Khmer Rouge
Workers under the Khmer Rouge file past a rice field in 1978, a period in which the regime gave no rights to its victims, a Tuol Sleng prison survivor says.

Tuol Sleng prison survivor Chum Mey on Friday called on living victims of the Khmer Rouge to file further complaints against five former regime leaders now in the custody of the tribunal.

Chum Mey, who was imprisoned at Tuol Sleng until Vietnamese forces pushed the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh in January 1979, said victims must exercise their right to complain, as no such rights existed under Democratic Kampuchea.

"They closed our mouths and our ears, and they banned our eyes from seeing," he told seminar on victim compensation in Phnom Penh Friday. "But now I tell you we have full rights. I need to ask you to file complaints as much as possible to try those five."

Chum Mey, who is 77 now, spoke during a seminar held by the rights group Adhoc to discuss possible reparations for victims following potential trials of the five former leaders: "Brother No. 2" Nuon Chea, nominal president Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary, social affairs minister Ieng Thirith and Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Kek Iev, better known by his revolutionary name, Duch.

"Do not let them go free," said Chum Mey, who himself has filed a complaint to the Khmer Rouge tribunal as a civil party. "If we file many complaints, the evidence will be more solid to prove there was mass killing."

The Victims Unit of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, located behind the Cambodian Red Cross Hospital on Norodom Boulevard, estimates about 1,800 people have so far filed complaints. Not all of them have been accepted by the courts, but more than 60 complaints will be used against Duch, whose case is nearing the trial stage.

Victims still lack access to information on filing complaints, said Hisham Mousar, who monitors the courts for the rights group Adhoc.

The tribunal should have a budget to support victims in the complaint process, he added.

Some people know they can complain, but they don't know where to go, Chum Mey said. Many of them are poor and are more concerned about making a living than making a trip to Phnom Penh to file a complaint.

Chea Sorn, 71, who attended Friday's seminar, said she was among those who want to file but do not know how.

"I alone am still alive; 10 others died," she said, weeping. "I don't know how to file a complaint. I earn money by keeping a parcel of land for one owner. I would rather die and forget all these difficulties."

Groups Worry UN Rights Office Could Close

Yash Ghai, UN Human Right envoy to Cambodia.

29 August 2008

Cambodian civic leaders plan to lobby the international community in a September push to keep the UN human rights office open in Phnom Penh.

Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho, and Thun Saray, head of the rights group Adhoc, will both travel to Geneva, where the UN is headquartered, Sept. 7 to urge member countries not to eliminate the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kek Galabru said Thursday.

Many of the 47 member countries of the UN Human Rights Council do not support a special envoy to represent the UN secretary-general, not only in Cambodia, but other countries, she said.

Cambodia's rights record remains poor, Kek Galabru said, making the continued operations of a UN rights office here important.

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has had problems with UN rights envoys in the past, especially the special envoy of the secretary-general, Yash Ghai, a strident critic of the premier.

Yash Ghai has had his visa to the US restricted, and top officials, including Hun Sen, have refused to meet him on past visits.

Meanwhile, the UN rights office is in transition, with the former head of the commission, Luis Arbour, stepping down Sept. 1, to be replaced by Navanethem Phillay.

Kek Galabru said Thursday at least 12 European Union countries opposed the elimination of the rights office.

Insufficient preparations delayed border talks

BANGKOK, Aug 28 (TNA) - A senior Cambodian official said on Thursday the anti-government protests in Bangkok had caused the Thai military to postpone talks over the disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple, but Thailand denied this, saying the postponement was due to insufficient preparations by both countries.

Cambodian Defence Ministry Secretary of State Neang Phat said a 30-member Thai delegation arrived in Siem Riep on Wednesday to prepare for talks scheduled for Friday over a further pullback of troops. But hours later it requested the meeting be postponed and then returned to Thailand.

Gen. Neang Phat said he understood the request was made due to the ongoing political problems in Thailand. It was not clear when Thai and Cambodian military officials would resume talks.

The Thai Foreign Ministry, however, on Thursday said both sides were not ready due to their internal processes.

The ministry added a new meeting date would be scheduled as soon as possible and the meeting would still be held in Cambodia as agreed.

Earlier this month Thailand and Cambodia agreed to convene a second meeting between the head of the Cambodian Temporary Coordinating Task Force and the head of the Thai Regional Border Committee on August 29 in Cambodia, to discuss the second phrase of redeployment of troops around the Preah Vihear area. (TNA)

Ta moan thom temple deal

Written by Thet Sambath
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Ta Moan Thom temple is to be opened to Cambodians on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, said Ho Bunthy, deputy commander of Border Military Unit 402, after a meeting between Cambodian and Thai commanders Wednesday. While heavy rains that prevented villagers from visiting the temple on Wednesday have just passed, Ho Bunthy said he's hopeful that Thai soldiers respect their promise and keep the gate open to Cambodians once the weather improves.

Cambodia town - stuff of dreams and seafood

Cambodia town - stuff of dreams and seafood

Friday, August 29, 2008

(08-29) 04:00 PDT Kep, Cambodia -- Kam Noeun must be some sort of genius.

His Kimly restaurant appeared no different from any of a half-dozen others along the attached row of corrugated-roof shacks that serve as the local crab market. Yet Noeun and his family have honed to perfection their version of the local specialty, pepper crab, freshly stir-fried not just with black pepper but also with fresh whole stalks of green peppercorns, grown in the nearby local plantations.

The crabs are fresh and briny, caught that day by one of the fishing boats moored outside. Smaller than the meaty Sri Lanka crabs that dominate in Singapore, they squirm on their way to the wok. But the pepper stalks, with their fragrant, herbal heat, buoy the crabs' sweetness in an unforgettable combination. Here in a crab shack at land's end in Cambodia, Noeun serves one of the finest seafood dishes I've ever had.

Besides the crab, Noeun's wine list would put to shame plenty of this country's seaside bistros. He brought us a 2006 white Bordeaux, a Premieres Cotes de Blaye. At $13, it was twice the cost of dinner. Inevitably, we returned for another helping the following night. Noeun looked up, sighed, then smiled. "You're back!"

Quaint and decrepit, the seaside town of Kep (once called Kep-sur-Mer) is like a tattered telegram from Cambodia's colonial days. Founded in 1908 during the French era on a small cape less than 10 miles from the Vietnamese border, it was once a sparkling resort.

During the reformist era of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1950s and '60s, French and Khmer alike journeyed to its balmy shores for the tranquil sunsets over the Gulf of Thailand and relief from the bustling heat of the capital. One of Sihanouk's planned palaces, now in disrepair, lies not far above the town's main road. The French connection and Cambodia's brief cultural heyday explain the architectural blend of colonial and Khmer take on Midcentury Modernism.

The Khmer Rouge explains the rest. Quite simply, Kep was all but destroyed during years of civil strife in the 1970s. Kampot province, where the town is situated, remained one of the Khmer Rouge's final holdouts. It still reputedly harbors former loyalists. In the intervening years, looting and neglect wore Kep down even further.

Kep remains a near-relic, seemingly unreconstructed with the exception of a few municipal buildings and an increasingly posh set of guesthouses. Roads are lined with evidence of the years of unrest. Quaint terraces are worn away by old bullet holes. Tree-shaded steps lead to ragged concrete skeletons of villas that once were.

No raves, please

I'd promised my partner Kristina a proper beach stay on our trip through Southeast Asia. But Bali and Thailand evoked thoughts of backpackers and bad Irish bars. We wanted something remote and rave-free.

At first glance, Kep had little to offer: seafood, solitude and a glimpse of the former charms of Cambodia, filtered through the remains of war.

That is precisely its charm, not just for us but for the handful of Khmer families who still visit for the weekend. Though Westerners are slowly rediscovering Kep - seaside villas were for sale at $80,000 - it has largely escaped the rapid transformation that has crept along the Cambodian coast.

To the northwest, the city of Sihanoukville, once Kep's rival as a resort, is now a key stop on the backpacker circuit. Australian-owned guesthouses line its streets, rooms at the Sokha Beach Resort start at $250, and a $2 billion resort is planned on the nearby island of Koh Rong. Though the airport closed last year after a fatal crash, flights are expected to resume later this year. Sihanoukville, obviously, is being groomed as Cambodia's Phuket.

The route to Kep

The route to Kep begins in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's chaotic capital. Five years ago, when I last visited, Phnom Penh felt very much like a frontier outpost itself - a slightly lawless enclave of aid workers, beggar children and French-speaking moto drivers who would speed you across town for 1 American dollar. Though the country's poverty is still visible at every turn, the changes are remarkable. A lone cash-advance booth off Monivong Boulevard has been supplanted by spotless ATMs run by Australia's ANZ Bank. Muddy Toyota Land Cruisers with Croix Rouge logos have morphed into Lexus SUVs. Thai-style tuk-tuks - three-wheeled open taxis - have invaded. Ambitious office buildings are being added to the skyline.

Unless you manage to find a private taxi (around $45), the strenuous five-hour, 105-mile journey to Kep is via twice-daily buses that depart near Phnom Penh's Central Market, a relatively new convenience, thanks to newly passable roads. The route through Phnom Penh's dusty suburbs, past garment factories and swarms of Khmer schoolchildren in uniform, seemed to take forever. But we eventually wound south on two-lane National Route 3, traversing the monotone Cambodian plain. Only as the temperature dipped and we approached the coastal mountains did the scenery gain intrigue, just as the paved road ended for a bone-jarring 20-mile-drive to the outskirts of Kep.

High point of the day

The bus stopped near Kep's municipal beach, and we staggered off. Its arrival was clearly a high point of the day.

Kristina and I hopped a tuk-tuk, which struggled up the hillside where most lodgings can be found. It stalled about halfway up, so we left our bags in the back and trekked behind to the stone entryway of the Veranda Guesthouse, located near the hiking trails to Kep's hilltop national park.

The Chinese-run Veranda is known not only for its picturesque bungalows - reached by a series of elevated walkways - but also for its picturesque bar and restaurant, offering a view that encompasses all of Kep. Our thatched bungalow was tidy and compact, with a full bath and a hammock-equipped patio looking directly out over town. A mosquito net was essential, but we also were constantly foiled by what we deduced to be a lizard that ate a new hole through Kristina's backpack each day. As the bungalow was already on 10-foot-high stilts, we preferred not to contemplate what precisely our visitor might be.

It was time for an ice-cold Angkor ("My Country, My Beer") and a remarkably well-made gin and tonic. (The lodge also offers a surprisingly good, if overpriced, wine selection.) We gazed at the outline of Phu Quoc Island, the crumbling villas and low-hanging tropical cumulus clouds that gathered each day around dusk. Squeezed between the hills' thick vegetation and the sea, the impression was undeniable that we had quietly come to the edge of the world.

The Elephant Mountains

By no means affluent, Kep gets by as a humble fishing town with a middling beach, nonpareil scenery and the reputation of its seafood.

It has fared better than its neighbors. To the northwest lies the atmospheric, if grungy, river town of Kampot, in the shadow of the Elephant Mountains. Until last year, this onetime port city served as staging point for trips to the Bokor Hill Station, perched at an elevation of 3,500 feet at the end of a bone-jarring 26-mile ride.

A former French settlement, Bokor once epitomized colonial civility with its Catholic church and opulent hotel-casino, the Bokor Palace. With the Khmer Rouge, it became the site of battles between Khmer combatants and the Vietnamese army, leaving it in such disrepair that its ghostlike status amid the mountain fog provided a steady stream of visitors, many of whom would pay $5 to stay the night. All that ended this winter when the Cambodian government leased the whole area to energy company Sokimex, which intends to resurrect Bokor as a posh resort, supplanting bullet holes with blackjack. The road is now closed except to a few well-connected tour guides.

Kampot also gave its name to the peppercorns grown throughout the province. As early as the 19th century, Kampot pepper was exported; through much of the 20th century, it was cherished by French gastronomes. The dried peppercorns have a unique fruitiness and pungency; they are readily found for sale in jars along the beach in Kep for a dollar or two. It is fresh Kampot pepper that makes Kep's pepper crab quite so distinctive.

A worthwhile excursion is a visit to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island), 3 miles offshore. We made our way to the local marina near the east end of town, where for $15 to $20 you can hire your own boat and boatman for the day.

The island, once a penal colony, is now inhabited by a half-dozen families who operate beachside cabanas, serve seafood and cold beer, and rent rustic huts on stilts.

Koh Tonsay's beaches are far more pristine than Kep's, with calm, clear waters. Over beer and a plate of pepper squid, we watched the occasional pig wander by as a pair of Englishmen docked, aided by a swarm of helpers unloading camping getup worthy of Kipling.

We left this well-outfitted bunch behind and took a walk. A rough path encircles most of the island, leading to even more remote inlets where you can see the looming hills of Phu Quoc in the distance. Just don't ask your skipper to take you farther south. Koh Tonsay is about equidistant from the mainland and Vietnam's territorial boundary. Given frequent border tensions, a pleasure cruise into Vietnamese waters is ill advised.

We returned to shore in time for a sunset stroll along Kep's shoreline. As the single main road is just a mile or two long, almost everything in town can be reached on foot. A full loop can be achieved in a morning. Near the municipal beach, we passed beyond Kep's other landmark - a towering plaster statue of a Khmer woman, sometimes called a mermaid, placed dramatically on the end of a pier. Its appearance from the bus signals your arrival in Kep, and it guards over the town pleasantly.

Limestone caves

With one day left, we wanted to explore inland. We negotiated with the Veranda's clerk for a moped (the guesthouses will also arrange guided tours). He scored a brand-new Suzuki - clearly borrowed from one of the staff - that, despite inadequate seat padding, turned out to be the best vehicle we rode in Cambodia, thanks to the luxury of a functional speedometer.

Armed with a hand-sketched map, we set out first for Kampong Trach, site of dramatic limestone caves, where the Khmer Rouge held several kidnapped Westerners in 1994. Beyond Kampong Trach lies the road to Vietnam, so we backtracked to hunt for pepper plantations, querying several puzzled roadside police officers - Mrek? we asked ("Pepper?") - before heading on to Kampot.

With the day ending, we puttered back to the roundabout, with a statue of a white horse that marks the turnoff to Kep. We turned south and approached the seaside for one final evening of pepper crab. Soon enough, we encountered a string of ruined shoreside villas - elaborate concrete and iron walls covered with moss and tropical grime, the homes they once protected crumbled to the foundations. As we stopped for a closer look, children pedaled by, shouting "Hello!" in unison.

There, as we approached the traffic circle that marked our turnoff, was Kep in full, half-destroyed and full of life.

Five cool things about Kep

1. Kep and nearby Kampot (specifically the Traditional Music School) have cameo appearances in the 2007 documentary "Sleepwalking Through the Mekong," about the L.A. band Dengue Fever.

2. The name Kep is thought to come from French - "le cap" ("the cape"). A more fanciful version evokes the tale of a Khmer king who once fell off his horse and lost a saddle ("kep she"), which provided the area with its name until it was shortened.

3. Though Norodom Sihanouk had a palace built in Kep, he never resided in it.

4. As elsewhere in Cambodia, gasoline for motos is usually sold on roadside stands in 1-liter soda bottles. A liter costs about $1.

5. Though some Kep destinations have Web sites, the town itself lacks Internet service. Leave the laptop at home.

If you go


There are no direct U.S. flights to Phnom Penh. But it's a short connecting flight from Bangkok (Thai Airways, Air Asia, Bangkok Airways), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam Airlines) or Kuala Lumpur (Malaysian Airlines, Air Asia). Flights are also available from Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and elsewhere.

From Phnom Penh, it will be a five-hour bus trip ($3 to $4 per person). Hour Lean (011-855-12-939-917) runs comfortable air-conditioned coaches. If your hotel or travel office books the bus, be insistent in your selection of bus company. We requested Hour Lean but were booked on Sorya for the ride down to Kep; the coach not only lacked the promised air conditioning but most of the seats were on the verge of collapse. Coaches typically play Khmer-language videos, which are charming for the first 45 minutes of the five-hour trip. Private taxis can also be arranged for around $45 each way.


Most lodgings are clustered on the west side of Kep.

Tucked into a wooded hillside, Veranda Guesthouse and Resort offers bungalows ($25-$60 a night) with panoramic ocean views, all connected by a raised walkway. 011-855-12-888-619, www.veranda-resort.com.

Vanna Bungalows, just down the road from Veranda, offers a similar setup ($10-$20), though with more basic amenities. They take only phone reservations, which can be a challenge if you're booking from the U.S. 011-85 -12 -755-038, www.vannabungalows.com.

Going sharply upscale, Knai Bang Chatt evokes Kep's full prewar glamour. Situated in villas designed by a student of architect Vann Molyvann, the Khmer protege of Le Corbusier, its rooms ($110-$392), swimming pool and sleek design wouldn't seem out of place in Malibu. Amenities include yoga and a sailing club. After making Conde Nast Traveler's 2007 Hot List, it hasn't been wanting for business. 011-855-128-794-86, knaibangchatt.com.

The huts on Koh Tonsay (around $10-$15) also offer a charming, isolated stay, though bring your own mosquito net, bedding and plenty of DEET-enabled bug spray.


The crab market along Kep's shore provides most of the town's options. Any of the restaurants will prepare the local pepper-laced specialties. Kimly offers not only crab and squid with green peppercorns but also traditional Khmer soups and rice dishes (entrees $3-$8), along with its wine list. 011-855-12-345-753.

Both Veranda and Vanna have restaurants. Vanna's menu is more traditional Khmer, while Veranda's open-air Jungle restaurant offers Italian dishes in addition to the usual Khmer fare (entrees $4-$10), plus a solid wine list and bar.

Just above Veranda, Le Bout du Monde has a similar open-air setup and view, offering local seafood dishes (entrees $4-$8). It also has several basic guest rooms.


The beaches in Kep are adequate, but the best beach option is on Koh Tonsay. Private boats ($15-$20) can be chartered on request and carry at least eight people. Buy a ticket at the marina on the east end of town, near the municipal offices. Arrange a return time, unless you plan to stay overnight on Koh Tonsay.

Sights farther afield include the limestone caves at Kampong Trach; the three hills of Phnom Sar Sear, with caves and a Buddhist retreat, en route to Kampot; and pepper plantations. Mopeds ($5-$7/day) and bicycles ($3/day) can be rented from most guesthouses or from stands in the town center. They allow you to explore the local area, and mopeds will carry you all the way to the towns of Kampot or Kampong Trach. For a more effective tour, you may want to arrange a tour or taxi ($20-30) with your guesthouse.


Kep: www.kepcity.com

Cambodian Ministry of Tourism: www.mot.gov.kh

Kampot Pepper Farmers' Associations: www.kampotpepper.biz/en/associations.html

Jon Bonné is The Chronicle's wine editor. To comment, visit sfgate.com/travel and follow the links.