A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

King Sihamoni, King Father Sihanouk and Queen Mother returned to Cambodia

L-R: King Sihamoni, Queen Monineath and King Father Sihanouk.

By Khmerization
Source: RFA

King Sihamoni and his parents, Their Majesties King Father Sihanouk and Queen Mother Monineath, has touched down at Pochentong Airport after arriving from Beijing at 4:40pm on Wednesday by Cambodia Angkor Air, reports Radio Free Asia.

More than 100 government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin, were at the airport to welcome their majesties home.

King Father Sihanouk was in Beijing for medical check-up, while King Sihamoni was returning from an official tour of several European countries, including the Czeck Republic, where he had lived and studied as a young boy from 1962 to 1975.

’97 grenade attack remembered

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Monks chant blessings during a ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of the bloody grenade attack on an opposition protest that left 16 dead.
Phnom Penh Post

MORE than 100 people turned out for Tuesday’s ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of the 1997 grenade attack that left at least 16 dead and scores injured during a peaceful opposition rally in Phnom Penh.

During the annual ceremony, held at the commemorative stupa marking the site of the attack near the former National Assembly, participants lit incense and laid wreaths, while victims’ relatives and Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) officials called for fresh investigations into the attack.

SRP President Sam Rainsy, who was injured in the attack, told his supporters by phone from France that finding justice for the victims and their families was only a matter of time.

“I have belief that justice must win someday. We will show the reality so that national and international public opinion see clearly that the highest officials were involved in the cowardly grenade attacks on March 30,” said the opposition leader, who is currently in self-imposed exile in France.

“Even if I am far away, my heart and my senses are with all of you. I would like to tell the Khmer people that we cannot forget March 30, 1997.” He added that the development of an independent court system would lead to the arrest and punishment of the perpetrators of the attack.

On March 30, 1997, four grenades were thrown into the crowd at a rally held by the opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP) – the predecessor to the SRP – killing and injuring scores of bystanders. Though the results of a subsequent FBI investigation of the incident have never been fully made public, Kong Korm, the SRP’s acting president, hinted on Tuesday that Brigade 70 – Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit – was involved in the attack.

He said that during the KNP’s demonstration, the prime minister’s bodyguards were present at the scene just prior the grenade explosions, and that the attackers made their escape towards a perimeter set up by Brigade 70 soldiers.

“The perpetrators did not seem afraid and escaped in the direction of the security forces that were known to be the bodyguard forces of Prime Minister Hun Sen,” Kong Korm said, adding that as the attack was being investigated, the Cambodian authorities did not cooperate fully with the US agents.

Sam Vanny said at the ceremony that she does not wish for revenge against anyone, but she also called on the government and FBI to reinvestigate the attack and ensure those responsible are punished.

“We do not have rancour or a wish for revenge, but legal obligations, democracy and justice demand that the government is responsible for this,” she said. “We would like to call for the government again to revive its inquiry into the above criminal case to reveal the perpetrators and backers and take them to the court,” she said.

Meanwhile, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said the Cambodian government has failed to take any steps to investigate the attacks, despite strong evidence of the involvement of Brigade 70.

“The United States claims that human rights and the rule of law are primary policy goals in Cambodia, yet it withdrew the FBI just when it was close to solving the case and has done nothing for over a decade to resolve it,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

“Members of the personal bodyguard unit for Hun Sen were deployed in full riot gear at the rally. They opened their lines and allowed the grenade throwers to escape, then threatened to shoot people trying to pursue them,” he added. “This attack has cast a shadow over Cambodia that will only be lifted when the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Phnom Penh municipal police chief Touch Naruth dismissed the accusations, saying that authorities have tried to investigate the attack but lack enough evidence to determine who is responsible.

“Normally to make an accusation, it is necessary for them to have evidence and if there was no evidence, how can we accuse? If Phnom Penh authorities do not want to investigate, it means that the FBI does not want to investigate as well,” he said. “We wanted so much to cooperate, but we tried hard, and there was no evidence.”

Army general accuses opposition leader of 'betraying Cambodia'

Phnom Penh (DPA)- The deputy head of Cambodia's armed forces has accused the country's exiled opposition leader of conspiring with Thailand to destabilize the nation, national media reported Wednesday.

General Chea Dara (pictured), who is posted at the flashpoint Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodian-Thai border, made the allegations in a two-hour speech to a crowd of 1,000 students and government officials in Phnom Penh, the Cambodia Daily newspaper reported.

"The betraying opposition party leader Sam Rainsy has colluded with Thailand and sold himself to Thailand to let Thais invade Cambodia," Chea Dara was quoted as saying.

Chea Dara was referring to events in mid-2008 as tensions rose at Preah Vihear after the 11th-century temple was registered by the UN cultural body UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. That move angered some Thai nationalists who claim the temple for Thailand.

The general's comments came two weeks after a court in Phnom Penh formally charged Sam Rainsy with falsifying public documents and spreading disinformation in an ongoing argument with the Cambodian government over the border demarcation process under way between Vietnam and Cambodia.

Those charges could see him jailed for 18 years and would add to the two-year sentence he received late last year in a related border dispute with Vietnam.

Sam Rainsy, who is in France in self-imposed exile, was sentenced in absentia after he removed wooden posts marking the border between Cambodia and Vietnam. The opposition had claimed the posts were intruding into Cambodian territory and costing farmers their land.

Vietnam is a key investor in Cambodia with significant interests in agribusiness, aviation, telecommunications and banking and an important political ally of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

An opposition party spokesman rejected the general's comments wholesale and said under Cambodian law the military must stay out of politics. Yim Sovann told the newspaper that Sam Rainsy's loyalties were to the Cambodian people and were beyond question.

"Please do not serve any political party," Yim Sovann said, referring to the military. "Otherwise, democracy in Cambodia will be jeopardized."

Chea Dara's comments came on the 13th anniversary of a grenade attack at an opposition gathering in Phnom Penh, which killed 16 people. Sam Rainsy was injured in the attack, which killed his bodyguard.

The attack was widely blamed on forces loyal to current Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who at the time was in an increasingly unstable coalition with the royalist party.

General claims victory in Thai border conflict

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
RCAF Deputy Commander in Chief General Chea Dara delivers a speech to students and teachers at the National Institute of Education on Tuesday.
Phnom Penh Post

A SENIOR military commander said Tuesday that Cambodia has prevailed on both the military and diplomatic fronts in its standoff with Thailand over disputed land near Preah Vihear temple.

“I am here to tell you all about our victory against the Thai soldiers on the battlefield. We are the winner, and we won both the battlefield and diplomatic fight under Samdech Hun Sen’s leadership,” said General Chea Dara, deputy commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), in remarks before more than 1,000 students, teachers and officials at the National Institute of Education.

Chea Dara also hailed the construction of roads close to the temple, which he said had facilitated the movement of troops and allowed more Cambodians to settle in border areas.

“Fifty percent of the Thai soldiers were withdrawn recently to Bangkok to solve their internal issues, and they will not dare to attack Cambodian soldiers again,” he said.

Fighting near Preah Vihear has claimed at least seven lives from both sides since July 2008, when tensions over the temple’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site erupted. Chea Dara claimed last week, however, that 88 Thai troops had been killed in fighting since 2008.

Rath Huot, deputy director of the National Institute of Education, said after Tuesday’s speech that he was very glad to hear directly from Chea Dara about progress at Preah Vihear and the situation on the front line, adding, “It is useful for students and teachers here to learn it.”

Chea Dara also raised accusations that opposition leader Sam Rainsy had aided the Thai military during the recent standoff. “[Sam Rainsy] met Thai officials, and he passed the sword to Thai officials against Hun Sen,” he said. He did not add any other details about the alleged meetings.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann dismissed that claim outright. “We Cambodians do not contact any country to mistreat Cambodians and fight against Cambodians. Sam Rainsy was voted for by Cambodians; he has served Cambodians and does not serve foreigners.”

An icon fades in Cambodia

Sam Rainsy: The "icon".

By Sebastian Strangio
Asia Times Online

PHNOM PENH - By uprooting six wooden border markers last October along the Vietnamese border, Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy again cast himself in the familiar role of a thorn in the flesh of authority.

Earlier this year, a court sentenced Rainsy to two years in prison in absentia for uprooting the posts. He now faces additional misinformation charges that carry a possible 18 years in prison. He has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity twice in the past year.

Though his Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) remains the kingdom's biggest proponent of Western-style democracy, Rainsy's decision to go into self-imposed exile in France to continue his campaign against alleged Vietnamese incursions into Cambodian territory has raised questions whether the 61-year-old politician has lost his direction and his party its past relevance in a fast-shifting political landscape.

Premier Hun Sen, who in 1997 ousted his long-time rival Prince Norodom Ranariddh in a bloody factional coup, has successfully consolidated his position at the center of the country's politics. Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has presided over a period of rapid economic growth - between 2004 to 2007 gross domestic product grew at an average of around 10% - and the party's continued success at the ballot box has demonstrated that the majority of Cambodians are willing to overlook its more authoritarian tendencies in exchange for economic progress.

Meanwhile, the past year has been a tumultuous one for the SRP, which controls 26 seats in Cambodia's 123-seat National Assembly. Aside from Rainsy's border imbroglio, SRP lawmakers Mu Sochua and Ho Vann both lost their parliamentary immunity after being accused of defaming senior CPP officials. These political stand-offs earned attention in the chambers of the US Congress and the European parliament in Brussels, but it's unclear whether the SRP's antagonistic strategies have maximized it's chances of leveraging Cambodia's demographic changes (as much as half of the population is under 24 years of age) into medium-term political gains.

By some assessments, the party has declined since its mid-2000s peak, a trend illustrated by its failure to capture the voters who withdrew their support from the royalist Funcinpec party after it split along factional lines in 2006. "All those votes should have gone to the SRP, and they didn't," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

He said the SRP's lack of concrete policies has personalized its frequent spats with the government and the lack of party vision has dragged it into various unwinnable battles with the CPP-controlled parliament. "There's no proper analysis or real policy," said Ou Virak. "If you're going to oppose something or are you in a position to offer anything, that's different?"

The SRP's campaigns against Hun Sen's authoritarianism and his cozy ties to former invader and occupier Vietnam have done little to change the country's political or economic realities. The CPP continues to control all three branches of government, as well as a large swathe of the print and broadcast media.

At the 2008 polls, the CPP captured over 58% of the popular vote and notched 90 National Assembly seats - more than the two-thirds majority needed to pass laws unanimously. The SRP increased its parliamentary representation from 24 to 26 in 2008, but its share of the popular vote remained steady at around 22%.

Over the same five-year period, the vote for the royalist movement - once a powerhouse of Cambodian politics under the Funcinpec party - shrank from 20.8% of the vote to just over 10%. Most of those lost votes were usurped by the ruling CPP, despite its long-time and often heated antagonism towards the royalist party.

Another political observer said that SRP's failure to capitalize on the rift in the royalist movement represented a "huge" missed opportunity for the party and that its recent political theatrics, including the border post stunt, had "steered the party way off message".

"They talk about party leaders being persecuted on the basis of esoteric rights that many Cambodian people have very little ownership of. They've adapted to appeal to outside constituencies rather than Cambodian voters," the observer said.

Sorpong Peou, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, concurred that the SRP's appeals to distant international organizations focused on democracy promotion and good governance have achieved little for the party domestically, where it remains "at the mercy" of Hun Sen and his ruling party.

"[The CPP] is willing to allow a degree of opposition in order to legitimize its domination and uses this type of legitimacy to gain international support," she said. "In this sense, the opposition's appeals have little real impact on domestic politics."

To be sure, Rainsy has been down before only to bounce back. Between 2005-06 he lived in self-exile in France for a year after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity and ordered jailed for 18 months on criminal defamation charges. He only returned to Cambodia in February 2006 after recanting comments he made about Hun Sen and receiving a royal pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni.

This time, though, Rainsy faces a less accommodating international landscape given the recent diplomatic overtures to Hun Sen's government made by the United States, which has prioritized a policy of counterbalancing China's rising regional influence. For years, Rainsy benefited from the US's antagonistic approach towards the government, a policy influenced by a bloody 1997 grenade attack on a peaceful opposition rally that many claim was orchestrated by members of Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit.

Ou Virak said that one new problem for Rainsy is that repeated petitions to international organizations - one of the few cards the leader has left to play - could be falling on increasingly deaf ears. "You can do it once or twice, but governments get fatigued, donors get fatigued ... You're running a risk of people no longer paying attention," he said. "Eventually he'll have to take it to the next level and that means facing possible imprisonment." He added: "He's no Aung San Suu Kyi. He's not going to come back."

Donor darling
When Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia from France in 1992, he was a rising star in the royalist political firmament. A founding member of then-prince Norodom Sihanouk's Funcinpec party in 1981, Rainsy had risen through the ranks to become an elected parliamentarian during Funcinpec's stunning win in the United Nations-backed 1993 elections and was appointed minister of finance in the Funcinpec-CPP coalition government.

His ascent, however, was short-lived and the fall that followed set the tone for a political career that would be marked by a consistently adversarial relationship with the government. In October 1994 - just over a year after his appointment - Sam Rainsy was dismissed from his post in a major cabinet reshuffle following his criticisms of the corruption and nepotism that plagued the coalition. The following year, his continued criticisms led to his expulsion from the party and the loss of his National Assembly seat.

At the time of its founding in 1995, the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) - the SRP's predecessor - was a breath of fresh air on the Cambodian political landscape. Unlike the CPP - which secured its support through a patronage system established in the 1980s - and Funcinpec, which traded heavily on the prestige of the monarchy, Sam Rainsy's new party put liberal democratic principles front and center. At the time, he said his expulsion from Funcinpec would give him the opportunity "to mobilize millions of people" sharing the same ideals.

Even with its egalitarian bent, the SRP's constituency to this day remains overwhelmingly urban. In 2008, it won six of its 26 seats in Phnom Penh and five in urban Kampong Cham, as well as three each in Kandal and Prey Veng, both densely populated provinces close to the capital. In half of Cambodia's 24 provinces and municipalities - among them the most remote and least populated - the party failed to win a single seat.

Caroline Hughes, an associate professor of governance studies at Murdoch University in Australia, claims that the SRP is not totally to blame for its poor electoral performances in rural areas, where the CPP used intimidation and patronage to secure votes. She said Sam Rainsy - a "donors' darling" in the early 1990s - has gradually become a more "marginal" figure because of waning international support, a rift with the Cambodian union movement and a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation against his supporters that included the bloody 1997 grenade attack.

"I don't think we can blame the SRP for the weakness of the Cambodian political opposition when the government has worked consistently to reduce the political space for any kind of organized activism on any issue," she said.

Others, however, believe the party's growth has been stunted by the erosion of its own internal democratic processes and by the constant threat of defections and government intimidation. The SRP, Ou Virak said, is "like a scared child" frightened by the threat of infiltration by the ruling party and suspicious of newcomers. "There are some good people in the party that I know that cannot move up in the ranks," he said. "There are some very good people who were left out."

For example, Ken Virak was a member of the SRP's Steering Committee who left to form his own party - the People's Power Party (PPP) - in 2007 after becoming disillusioned with the SRP's internal workings. He said the SRP had given up its role as a democratic opposition party "step by step" and that its steering committee - nominally in charge of party decision-making - no longer had real power.

"There is no democracy inside the party. Most of the decisions are made only by a minority of members who are powerful in the party and associated with Sam Rainsy," he said. "I found that before every election, members of the party always broke away because of the political decision-making and partisanship," he said.

Ken Virak said that all opposition groups, including the new Human Rights Party (HRP) and his PPP, must unite if they are to have a chance at cutting into the CPP's majority at the next national election, which must be held by 2013. But a united opposition is still a distant threat to CPP dominance: proposed mergers between the SRP and HRP and two remaining royalist parties have all foundered on personal disagreements between their leaders.

Political family
Born in Phnom Penh in 1949, Rainsy's formative years were influenced by Cambodia's rough and tumble politics. His father, Sam Sary, was a key member of Sihanouk's Sangkum Reastr Niyum government, but fell from grace after he was implicated in the so-called Bangkok Plot of 1959, an attempt to topple the government with the support of Thailand's right-wing Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Sam Sary disappeared in 1962 and was presumed killed, possibly by the government. Shortly afterwards, Rainsy's mother, In Em, took the remaining family members to live in France, where he was educated and remained for the next three decades. In a recent Phnom Penh Post interview, Rainsy described his father's death as a "traumatizing" experience, but said that his political views permeated the family and influenced the trajectory of his own political development.

Certain pivotal events in Europe, including the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, were topics of conversation at the dinner table and went some way to forming the ideals that grew into the SRP's blend of liberal internationalism with appeals to Khmer nationalism.

"When it came to Southeast Asia, my father was in favor of a strict neutrality - that Cambodia should not move closer to the communist world," Rainsy said. "This has marked my background and my conviction that communism is oppressive - that freedom is essential and that we have to fight for [it]."

Rainsy said that despite being founded largely on his own initiative in 1995, the KNP - renamed the SRP in 1998 because of legal disputes over the KNP name - had grown into an "organization of its own" linking Cambodia with Khmer communities abroad. He also downplayed his role as the party's figurehead, referring to it as an "anachronistic" notion.

"If it was a one-man show, the show would have stopped a long time ago given all the problems that we've been facing," he said.

Rainsy said that the SRP was the only party in Cambodia that holds organized elections from the grassroots, a system that was in strict opposition to the CPP's centrally controlled networks. "They appoint their cadres - their apparatchiks - at the grassroots, but we are the only party that has organized elections," he said. Similarly, the "loss" of the former Funcinpec vote was largely "due to intimidation and vote-buying in non-transparent elections", Rainsy said - a claim the opposition has made consistently since the July 2008 election.

Asked how the party might erode the CPP's entrenched network of patronage and make electoral headway in rural areas, Rainsy said that current and future demographic changes were swinging voters towards the SRP - a factor reflected in the party's recent formation of a new youth congress. "It will take less time than one might imagine now because of the progress of technology, information, communication and education," he said. "History is accelerating."

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, a local election monitor, said Rainsy retains substantial political capital for taking a principled stance against corruption in the 1990s and maintaining it has a party platform ever since. He believes the party's main challenge is improving its public relations.

"I think he still has that credibility. He resigned from a key position in government and showed he is that kind of politician," he said. "The problem is how to communicate that credibility to the people." It's likely to remain a problem for the party as long as Rainsy campaigns on issues that appear to have more resonance with foreign audiences than with local voters.

Sebastian Strangio is a reporter for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia – an emerging tourist destination

A group of nine of us visited Angkor Thom (Ta Prohm Temple), where towering twisting trees enveloped all the temples, and where Angelina Jolie filmed “Laura Croft, Tomb Raider.”

The Queen Courier
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cambodia, an ancient society with an embattled past, is now emerging into the 21st century with a coalition government that is striving to put the violence behind them. Capitalism is alive and well, with many businesses in Angkor Wat thriving.

We were here to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Angkor Wat. The unrivaled majesty of the complex of Hindu temples, built beginning in the 9th century, brings vacationers from around the world, making tourism one of the country’s major sources of income, as in Vietnam.

Our cruise ship, the Seabourn, offered a shore excursion to Cambodia while the ship was docked in Bangkok. When we embarked, we were met by our guide, Kit, who was hired by the Seabourn to “hold our hands” throughout our visit to Cambodia.

Even though the four-year-old, spectacularly designed Bangkok airport is traveler and shopper friendly (with signs in English) few people speak the language. Well, Kit made it really easy. The benefit of traveling with a guide is that he does all the communication and handles all the passports and forms needed in each country. He even traveled on the hour-long flight with us to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat. All the tension dissolved with his helping hand.

Once we landed, we were met by our Cambodian guide who helped us get through customs. We checked in and our group of nine immediately left to visit the Angkor Wat complex of temples in 120 F heat and 90 percent humidity.

They had been abandoned and overrun by massive trees and jungle for centuries. They disappeared from sight until, in 1864, a French naturalist’s diaries describing the area caught the imagination of the international community and work began to bring back the wondrous temple complexes.

There are hundreds, but we visited the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Ironically, I was more impressed by the latter. Fortunately, we visited on the second day when the oppressive heat lifted, but it was more than that.

There are towering twisting trees that had enveloped all the temples, but here they did not take them all down as they did at Angkor Wat, so we could see what it looked like when the site was rediscovered. It is a perfect site for an Indiana Jones film and has the added glamour of being the place where Angelina Jolie filmed “Laura Croft, Tomb Raider.”

Many massive carvings that tell the story of the ancient culture are still being restored. In the two days we were there, we saw both sites and then spent some time in the village visiting a local market and a school for sculptors.

The town boasts over 100 hotels and restaurants with room prices ranging from $1 to $2,000.

Our hotel was a 5-star, recently-built Sofitel. In the evenings they offered an outdoor cultural dinner show featuring classical dances and music. I do not know who was sweating more, the performers or me, but my heart went out to them in their impressive, heavily-jeweled costumes and masks. I would have retreated to my air-conditioned room, but I could not be disrespectful to these talented young people.

I had been told it gets very hot in the area, but the negative is overcome by the warm, friendly people, and the enchanting visit to Angkor Thom is one I will remember forever.

British war photographer Page condemns 'Sean Flynn' exhumation

ADVENTROUS SPIRIT: Sean Flynn in Vietnam in the late 1960s. (Picture: Tim Page, The Courier-Mail, Queensland, Australia)

Phnom Penh - Renowned British war photographer Tim Page on Wednesday condemned the manner in which a British-Australian team dug up bones it claimed are of missing photographer Sean Flynn, who disappeared in Cambodia 40 years ago.

Page, who has spent years searching for Flynn's remains himself, told the German Press Agency dpa that without DNA testing, there could be no certainty that the remains uncovered in central Cambodia were those of his former colleague, friend and the son of Hollywood legend Errol Flynn - something the team that excavated them has claimed.

"And you don't take a bulldozer to a crime scene investigation," Page said of numerous media reports that the team had used a backhoe to turn up the remains.

"There is a very strict procedure to be followed when digging at the site of possible remains, and in this case, that procedure has not been followed," said Page, who is best known for his photographs from the Vietnam War.

Flynn was in Cambodia on assignment for Time magazine covering its civil war when he and fellow American Dana Stone, a photojournalist with CBS News, went missing on April 6, 1970, after they drove out of Phnom Penh on the road to Vietnam.

Flynn was 28 and Stone was 31 when they disappeared, and neither man was heard from again. It is thought the two were kept alive for a year before being killed, either by the Khmer Rouge or by Vietnamese communist forces.

Page said he believed he had found the site last year where Flynn and up to 11 other missing journalists might have been executed in the early 1970s.

"It looks like all the journalists captured in eastern Cambodia were taken to the same area, so we could be looking at one of 12," he said. "But I haven't released anything because I haven't confirmed it. Until it's proven, it could even be [a Cambodian national]."

Dave McMillan, one of the men behind the dig, said he would "not confirm or deny" reports they had used earth-moving equipment during the dig but said the expedition had been sanctioned by Flynn's half-sister.

"We have done a whole different bunch of things - I have been up there three months digging holes," he said. "We used some not-so-obvious techniques you wouldn't see in a forensics handbook."

On Friday, the team handed over the remains to the US embassy in Phnom Penh. An embassy spokesman said the remains would be forwarded to the United States for analysis but said it was unclear how long it would take to confirm or refute the identity.

Flynn and Stone were among at least 37 journalists who died or disappeared while covering the Cambodia conflict, which ended on April 17, 1975, when Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces took Phnom Penh and instituted their four-year-long genocidal regime known as Democratic Kampuchea.

The Cambodian government announced in March that it would build a monument to the memory of those journalists. A group of surviving journalists from that era have planned a reunion in Phnom Penh in April, the first since they were expelled by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Around 2 million Cambodians are thought to have died during the Khmer Rouge rule of the country. A UN-Cambodian court in Phnom Penh has been established to try some of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.

President affirms tradition of Cambodian co-operation

HA NOI — Viet Nam would continue to consolidate and develop its traditional friendship, good neighbourliness and co-operative ties with Cambodia, President Nguyen Minh Triet assured the National Co-Prosecutor for Cambodia's Extraordinary Courts Chamber Chea Leang yesterday.

Numerous high-level exchange visits, especially that of Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh in December, had fostered multifaceted co-operative ties between the two countries, he said.

Co-operation in trade and investment had been boosted with many of Viet Nam's major enterprises focused on telecommunications, energy, mining exploration and marine transport.

Viet Nam and Cambodia had developed a strong attachment during their struggle for national liberation and it was now appropriate they jointly create wealth for each other.

The President said the signing of Memorandum of Understanding between Viet Nam's People's Supreme Procuracy and Cambodia's Extraordinary Courts Chamber would create a legal foundation for co-operation between the two judiciaries.

He believed the memorandum would be efficiently implemented and help take their co-operation to a new height.

National Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang briefed the president about the outcome of her working session with Viet Nam's Supreme People's Procuracy.

Details for the creation of a regime for information exchange, support and professional experience sharing would be discussed, she said.

The National Co-Prosecutor said Cambodia's Extraordinary Courts Chamber wanted to contribute more to the enhancement of friendship and co-operation between Viet Nam and Cambodia. — VNS

Road Rage: General in court over shooting

Victim being rushed to hospital.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010
By Vong Sokheng
Phnom Penh Post

Road Rage
Ageneral in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and his bodyguard, accused of shooting an ice seller after a traffic accident on Sunday, were sent Tuesday to Kampong Speu provincial court for questioning, which was due to continue today, Khut Sopheang, the court’s chief prosecutor said. The hearing was held despite the fact that the victim’s family accepted compensation in exchange for not filing a complaint. Brigadier General Soy Narith and his bodyguard were arrested Sunday for allegedly shooting Kong Kon, 32, in the neck after the victim’s ice cart cut in front of their car in Samrong Tong district’s Sambou commune. Kong Kon was rushed to Calmette hospital and is now conscious, according to relatives. The victim’s brother, who wished not to be named, said Soy Narith had offered the family US$5,000 in compensation on Monday in exchange for not filing a complaint with the court. But Roth Navy, a provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, said that although the compensation was paid, the case remained in court. “There was evidence [of a shooting]; therefore, the general has to face criminal charges from the court,” he said.

Ancient Cambodian bronzes headed to Getty Center

March 30, 2010

Angkor For the first time, the J. Paul Getty Museum will be hosting an exhibition of artwork from Cambodia.

A collection of ancient bronze sculptures from the Southeast Asian country will go on display at the Getty Center in 2011. "Gods of Angkor: Bronzes From the National Museum of Cambodia" is set to run from Feb. 22 to Aug. 14, 2011.

The exhibition features work dating from the Angkor period, roughly from the 9th to the 15th centuries. The Getty said the show will also feature a small group of bronzes from the pre-Angkor period and some recently excavated works.

Much of the exhibition will feature sculptures depicting Buddhist and Hindu deities created by artists who lived during the Khmer Empire. The sculptures are on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, which has founded a bronze conservation studio.

The exhibition will open at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., in May.

"Gods of Angkor," which features 36 works, is the result of a partnership between the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries and the National Museum of Cambodia. The two institutions have worked together on conservation and other efforts.

-- David Ng

Photo: a 12th century bronze from the Angkor period. Credit: National Museum of Cambodia

MILLVILLE: Wheaton Arts announces hours and program offerings

For more information, call (856) 825-6800, (TRS) 800-852-7899 or dial 711 or visit www.wheatonarts.org.

Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center, 1501 Glasstown Road, Millville, will resume its six-day operating schedule on April 1. Hours will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday through Dec. 31.

WheatonArts is home to the Museum of American Glass, with the most comprehensive collection of American glass in the country, the Creative Glass Center of America, a fellowship program for international artists working in glass, and the Down Jersey Folklife Center which showcases the various ethnic and occupational groups that define the region through changing exhibits and displays.

The visitor experience also includes artist demonstrations in glass, ceramics, flameworking and woodcarving. The award winning museum stores feature one-of-a-kind, handcrafted gifts in all media. The “Make Your Own” programs, fee based and appointments required, provide visitors an opportunity to create a paperweight, blow a bowl or vase form and make beads. Also, special exhibitions are presented in the Museum of American Glass, Down Jersey Folklife Center and Gallery of Fine Craft throughout the year.


April 1: “People, Places and Paperweights” in the Museum of American Glass Special Exhibition Gallery. This exhibition illustrates the production of 16 American glass companies and the paperweights made by individuals associated with the factories.

April 1 – May 16: “Contemporary Flamework” in The Gallery of Fine Craft. The exhibit and sale includes works by Paul Stankard, Stankard Studio, Shane Fero, Emilio Santini and Gianni Toso. The work ranges from unique goblets to one-of-a-kind sculptures.

April 1 - October 20: “Cambodian Traditions: Weddings and Court Dances” in the Down Jersey Folklife Center. The exhibition features costumes, accessories and masks which are part of the two major traditions of Cambodian culture – Khmer classical dance and Khmer traditional wedding.

Upcoming Programs and Events:

April 3 – “Design A Glass Rabbit” Demonstration. Winners and their families are invited to watch their designs created by the WheatonArts artists in the Glass Studio from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

May 1 – Eco-Fair: Green Living For Your Home and Garden. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free and open to the public. Educators, related businesses and organizations will provide information, resources, products and solutions for people to live healthier, eco-friendly lives. The day features special presentations, tree tours by the Rutgers University Master Gardeners, kids’ crafts, “green” films, native plants, entertainment, food and refreshments. Presented in partnership with the Cumberland County Improvement Authority.

May 15 – Paperweight Fest in the Event Center. Noon to 5 p.m. Presented in association with the Delaware Valley Paperweight Collector’s Association. See a select group of paperweight dealers, artists and galleries in the Event Center.

May 28 – Open Studio with the Creative Glass Center of America Fellows. Event Center at 7 p.m. Free and open to the public. Visitors will see a slide show of the Fellows work followed by a demonstration of their glassmaking techniques. Light refreshments.

Classes and Workshops: Advanced registration is required. Walkins are welcome only if the class is not full. To register, call (856) 825-6800, ext. 100, or send an e-mail to Beverly Narbut, at bnarbut@wheatonarts.org.

Beginning Stained Glass: Geometric Suncatchers, for ages 16 and older, 6 to 8 p.m. April 6, 13 and 20; members $65, nonmembers $75.

Fusing I: Glass Jewelry, for ages 16 and older, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. April 14, 21 and 28, members $225, nonmembers $250.

Blowing I: Beginning Glass Blowing, for ages 16 and older, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. April 14, 21 and 28, members $295, nonmembers $320.

Fusing II: Fantasy Face Mask, for ages 16 and older, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. April 15 and 22, members $225, nonmembers $250.

Blowing II: Level Two Glass Blowing, for ages 16 and older, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. April 15, 22 and 29. members $295, nonmembers $320.

Cambodian Beadwork On Fabric, for ages 10 and older, 2 to 4 p.m. April 25, members $30, nonmembers $35.

Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for senior adults, $7 for students and free for children age five and younger. Free to shop and stroll except during outdoor special events. From April 1 to 30, buy one general admission ticket and receive one complimentary pass for a future visit.

Sam Rainsy's so-called letter of apology to Hun Sen

Unofficial translation by Khmerization

Paris, 3rd February 2006

To Samdech Hun Sen
Prime Minister of Cambodia

Dear Samdech,

I am very happy because I note that the political situations in Cambodia have eased considerably in the last few days. I wish to thank you for facilitating such a development, especially your letter to the king requesting for the reduction of Mr. Cheam channy's sentence after you have requested the court to release a number of leaders of the civil society from prison.

For me, I have the same view as Your Excellency, and that is I want to have national reconciliation and national unity again in order to gather all forces to unite in the reconstruction of our nation to be prosperous. I am of the same view as Samdech that all problems existed between Khmers and Khmers must be resolved within our Khmer family.

I regret that I did'nt understand your heart from the beginning which have caused (led to) a few problems with you. From today onward, I will change my attitude to end all those problems and will do everything not to let all these problems happen again. In general, I have decided that I will not take personal issues as paramount by focusing my attention on national issues that must be resolved through peaceful means and with mutual respect for each other. The solutions for all of our national problems do not demand that there are winners and losers because we are all Khmers who must be united. Only Cambodia and the Cambodian people will benefit (obtain victory) from national reconciliation, especially victory over poverty and the (economic) downturn. (And) our children and grandchildren will all have a bright future.

Please accept the highest considerations from me.

Sam Rainsy

Thailand withdrew 50% of troops from Preah viear area to help control situations in Bangkok

By Khmerization
Source: Kampuchea Thmey

Gen. Chea Dara (pictured), the commander of the Preah Vihear military operations, said that the military situations at borders near Preah Vihear have eased after Thailand withdrew 50% of its troops to help contain the political situations in Bangkok where thousands of anti-government demonstrators rallied across the capital, reports Kampuchea Thmey.

Speaking to about 1,000 academics and students at the National University of Management in Phnom Penh on 30th March, Gen. Chea Dara said the military tensions along the borders have eased considerably due to the Thai withdrawals.

Gen. Srey Doek, commander of the Preah Vihear precinct, also said that the military situations at Preah Vihear have eased. He said Thai troops have stopped pushing into Cambodian territories and had attempted to build good relations with the Cambodian troops for fearing that Cambodian troops might take advantage of the political chaos in Bangkok by launching an attack.

Sam Rainsy appeal to authority to bring perpetrators of the 1997 grenade attacks to justice

Click on pictures to enlarge.

By Khmerization
Source: RFA and Kampuchea Thmey

Mr. Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), has appealed from his self-exile in Paris for the perpetrators of the 1997 grenade attacks to be brought to justice and for the America FBI to continue its investigation of the case, reports Radio Free Asia.

On 30th March 1997, four grenades were thrown into a crowd of demonstrators organised by the Khmer Nation Party, the precursor of the SRP, killing 19 and wounded more than 160 people. The opposition parties, civil society and the American FBI's investigations found initial evidences that pointed the finger to Prime Minister Hun Sen's Bodyguard Unit what was posted nearby at the time.

Speaking by telephone from france on the 13th anniversary of the attacks, Mr. Rainsy has called for the perpetrators and masterminds of the attacks to be brought to justice. "The perpetrators and their accomplices, who caused the deaths of our compatriots, those criminals will be arrested and punished according to the laws", he said.

Mrs. Sam Vanney, a representative of the victims' families, has also called for justice. "I call on the government to re-open the investigation into this crime in order to unmask the killers and the masterminds and bring them to justice", she said.

According to Kampuchea Thmey, Mr. Rainsy said the grenade attacks were linked to people in high positions. Tith Sothea, member of the government's Press Quickk Reaction Unit, has rejected Mr. Rainsy's accusations as baseless. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the investigation into the attacks is ongoing. When asked why after 13 years no one was arrested, he said the authority needs time to investigate the case thoroughly.

At the same time, hundreds of monks and people attended the 13th commemorative ceremony of the attacks in Phnom Penh yesterday. Mr. John Johnson, spokesman for the U.S Embassy has been seen attending and monitoring the event also.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has also called for the Cambodian government and the American FBI to re-launch their investigations into the attacks.

After the attacks, the American FBI launched an investigation by withdrew its staff from Cambodia after their safety was threatened. The FBI's preliminary reports pointed the fingers Prime Minister Hun Sen's Bodyguard Unit posted nearby.

Cambodia opposition asks to halt Vietnam border demarcation

Click on the letter to read.

30th March 2010
Agence France-Presse

Cambodia's main opposition party on Tuesday asked the government to suspend demarcation of a contentious border with neighbouring Vietnam, according to a letter seen by AFP.

Lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), whose leader lives in exile in France, urged Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a review of border markings to "properly and fully respect the territorial integrity of Cambodia".

The Cambodian premier maintains close relations with the Vietnamese regime and Sam Rainsy, whose party shares his name, has repeatedly accused the government of ceding land to Vietnam.

"We, the lawmakers... would like to request the government to suspend the process of planting markers along Cambodian-Vietnamese border," the letter said.

The move follows a government lawsuit filed last month against Sam Rainsy accusing him of publishing a false map on his party's website that disputed delineation of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.

The opposition leader was in January sentenced in absentia to two years in prison in Cambodia for intentionally uprooting temporary border posts and inciting racial unrest.

Two villagers were also found guilty in the October incident in which Sam Rainsy led protesters to uproot six border markers in southeastern Svay Rieng province, alleging they had been illegally placed by Vietnam.

Vietnam condemned the saboteurs' act as "perverse, undermining common assets, violating laws of Cambodia and Vietnam, treaties, agreements and deals between the two countries".

But the SRP's letter to Hun Sen on Tuesday asked that independent experts, lawmakers, journalists, and civil society representatives be allowed to monitor and verify the demarcation process between the two countries.

Cambodia and Vietnam officially began demarcating their contentious border in September 2006 after decades of territorial disputes.

Anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia is rife, fuelled by resentment at Vietnam's expansion over the centuries and the feeling that Cambodia is losing some of its territory.

Vietnam and Cambodia share a 1,270-kilometre (790-mile) border, which has remained vague since French colonial times.

Work begins on Cambodian hydropower project

Kamchay Dam in Kampot is one of the biggest dams being built by the Chinese company.


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (Associated Press) - A Chinese company has begun construction of one of several hydroelectric dam projects planned to reduce electricity shortages in Cambodia that environmentalists warn could do more harm than good, an official said Tuesday.

The China National Heavy Machinery Corp. will build the 246-megawatt plant in Koh Kong province, with an investment of $540 million. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday, and the project is due for completion by 2014, said Pich Siyun, chief of the province's Industry Department.

"We have a shortage of electricity now, and I hope that the dam would help reduce people's poverty as the price of electricity would be cheaper," he said.

On Thursday, a ceremony is expected to take place in the capital Phnom Penh for the inauguration of another Chinese-built hydroelectricity project in Koh Kong. Pich Siyun said China Huadian Corp. plans to build a $558 million hydropower plant that would generate up to 338 megawatts.

Koh Kong province is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) west of Phnom Penh.

Electricity generation in Cambodia remains largely underdeveloped, with most power plants using fossil fuels. The impoverished Southeast Asian nation also buys electricity from neighboring Vietnam and Thailand.

Power costs in Cambodia are among the highest in the world, and only about 12 percent of its 14 million people have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

Electricity prices are also a major source of complaint from investors in Cambodia.

In a bid to meet future electricity demand, the government has identified 21 potential hydroelectric dam sites across the country.

But environmentalists have voiced concerns about the impact those projects will have.

In a 2008 report, the U.S.-based International Rivers Network said "poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage" Cambodia's environment and also extract a social cost.

But Pich Siyun dismissed the concerns, saying the projects were studied thoroughly by all concerned ministries before they were approved by the government.

"Of course there is an impact from the dams once we build, but according to our studies, the income from electricity will really boost our economy," Pich Siyun said.

No specific plans have been announced to export power generated from the hydro schemes -- an approach embraced by Cambodia's cash-strapped neighbor, Laos -- but Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously said that if Cambodia's capacity was adequate it would consider selling electricity to Thailand.

Who Will Defend the Children in Cambodian Drug Rehab Centres?

By Joe Amon
The Nation, Thailand
Published on March 31, 2010

At the end of January, Human Rights Watch released a report on abuses throughout Cambodia's system of drug detention centres. Our report detailed terrible abuses and sadistic violence. The adults and children we interviewed told us of being beaten, whipped and punished with electric shocks.

Unicef provides direct funding for one of the centres, where drug-users and children - some reportedly as young as four - are brought in from the streets. When we briefed them four months before we released our report, they told us they were shocked. They promised to look into the abuses. Children who had been detained at the Unicef-funded centre told us of being tortured. They told us of being forced to do exhausting military exercises, work on construction projects and even dance naked for guards.

We expected Unicef to press for a thorough and independent investigation and to demand that those responsible for the abuses be held accountable. We hoped they would conduct a review of their funding, programming and activities. We expected them to press the Cambodian government more broadly about the detention of children alongside adults.

What actually happened? Not much. Unicef issued a statement when our report was released saying that past reviews conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs - the ministry running the centre - had found no evidence of "major violations". Over the next few weeks Unicef officials defended their support for the centre, saying that they monitor conditions in the centre "from time to time". Unicef's director in Cambodia, Richard Bridle, said that they "look for the positive". At the same time, Bridle conceded that he "wouldn't be surprised" if abuses were taking place, and that these kinds of abuses are "typical in centres [such] as this one".

Last week, Unicef officials visited the centre - the Choam Chao Youth Rehabilitation Centre, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh - and then told reporters that Human Rights Watch had made a mistake. Mr Bridle said that on their visit, Unicef staff had joked with children being held there and found them "engaging". Bridle told the Phnom Penh Post that "there is no culture of violence" at the centre. He pointed to an as-yet-unreleased internal assessment by the Ministry of Social Affairs and to statements made by a non-governmental organisation that provides some services in the centre (and which is also financed by Unicef) to suggest that we had our facts wrong.

It's a tactic we are more accustomed to seeing from repressive governments than from Unicef officials: A quick trip, an internal investigation and an announcement of no wrongdoing.

In contrast to Unicef's cursory review, our investigation was independent and thorough. We conducted detailed, in-depth interviews with 53 people who had been detained in drug detention centres within the last three years, 17 of whom had been detained at the centre Unicef supports. Our interviews were conducted outside of the centres, where children could feel safe from possible retaliation for telling us of their experiences.

While Unicef claims that the Choam Chao centre is "open" and "voluntary", here is what a few children who had been held at the centre told us:

"I tried to escape but my feet got stuck on the barbed wire. I was re-arrested. They beat me with a rattan stick until I lost consciousness and they poured water on me. They said, each time, "Don't run again!" Teap (14 years old);

"As soon as I arrived, the Social Affairs staff kicked and beat me. I don't know why. He said, 'You stay here. Do not run! There are high walls here. If you get re-arrested, I won't be responsible if your leg is broken.'" Chambok (17 years old);

"They shocked the big kids who tried to escape. I saw when they escaped and when they got shocked. They shocked them a lot." Chamnauth (15 years old);

"If anyone tried to escape, he would be punished. Some people managed to escape, some didn't. Most who were punished for escaping would be beaten unconscious. Beatings like this happened every day." M'noh (16 years old).

All of these children were detained during the period when the centre was getting funds from Unicef.

We're not the only ones presenting evidence of abuse. In the same article that quotes Richard Bridle saying that "These were not brutalised kids", the reporter from the Phnom Phen Post quoted a drug-user who had been at the Unicef-funded centre a year ago: "They used sticks. They unlocked the door, entered and started beating. They punched me in the face. They smashed my head against the wall. They beat me three times with the cable in the same place. You could see the flesh come out. It was like pieces of flesh from a fish." He then showed the journalist his scars.

We have briefed Unicef four times, before our report and afterwards, both in Cambodia and New York. It's been six months since we first presented our findings, methodology and recommendations. While Unicef officials defend their colleagues at the Ministry of Social Affairs, who is defending the children at the centre they fund, or at the 10 other drug detention centres throughout the country? When will Unicef decide to listen to the voices of the children who have been beaten and tortured? When will they support our call for a thorough, independent and credible investigation?

Joe Amon is director of health and human rights for Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Ex-SRP lawyer accepts CCHR post

Tuesday, 30 March 2010
By Vong Sokheng
Phnom Penh Post

KONG Sam Onn (pictured), a lawyer who was served with a bar complaint last year while representing Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua during her high-profile defamation dispute with Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been appointed director of programmes for the Cambodian Centre for Human rights, the organisation said Monday.

“I think it is a good job to promote human rights, and I will work to help the nation and devote my love to the nation,” said Kong Sam Onn, who ceased representing Mu Sochua and defected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party after the bar complaint was filed by government lawyer Ky Tech.

“I am a member of the CPP, but it doesn’t mean that a member of the CPP will work to oppose human rights in Cambodia,” he said.

Kong Sam Onn has also represented Sam Rainsy and Ho Vann, another SRP lawmaker.

He has worked as a legal consultant at the Khmer Rouge tribunal and as a senior manager at the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO.

Retiree paid to get Danish woman out of Cambodian jail

Johanne Vinther Axelsen, 55, appears at Phnom Penh Municipal Court last year. Axelsen, who received a 15-year sentence for trafficking illegal medicines , was extradited to her native Denmark this month. (Photo by: AFP)

Monday, 29 March 2010
By RC News
Phnom Penh Post

Man who paid Cambodian authorities to release Danish woman from jail has done the same before

When Johanne Vinther Axelsen was released from a jail in Phnom Penh last week, no one knew why the Cambodian authorities suddenly allowed the move.

What appeared to be the prospect of 15 years in prison instead turned into a sudden trip home for the Danish woman on Thursday, who had been charged with illegally sending pills to the US.

In early 2008, Axelsen sent 53 packets of more than 10,000 headache pills containing codeine and valium to her son in the US. The son, Niels Eikeland, had evidently told her that the shipment was perfectly legal.

But now it has come out that retiree Mikkel Hass paid 40,000 kroner of his own money to get Cambodian police to let Axelsen go. Axelsen herself was unable to pay the sum, and the Danish authorities – who had negotiated on her behalf for her release – were unwilling to do so.

But it isn’t the first time Hass has dipped into his own pockets to get a Danish prisoner released from overseas.

In October of last year, Hass paid 20,000 kroner to Thai authorities for the release of James Christensen, who was being held for alleged arson.

Hass told Berlingske Tidende newspaper that more people should be willing to help Danes in similar situations.

‘If you have the money and you’re deciding whether to buy a boat or make a difference in someone’s life, what’s the best choice?’ Hass asked rhetorically. ‘I personally have no doubts about that.’

Timber raids a success: officials

Police raided on 26th March found this warehouse stockpiling 400 cubic metres of illegal timbers belonging to Oknha Ang Try.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010
By Cheang Sokha and Sebastian Strangio
Phnom Penh Post

FORESTRY officials say they have seized roughly 3,000 cubic metres of valuable timber in nationwide raids in the past two months, as municipal authorities raided warehouses stocking contraband timber in Russey Keo district over the weekend.

Forestry Administration Director Ty Sokun said Monday that the current crackdown, which began with a directive from Prime Minister Hun Sen in January, has led to around 100 raids and seizures totalling 3,000 cubic metres of hardwood.

“We will file all these cases to the courts. We have confiscated the valuable timber, and the owners will be fined and punished,” he said.

He also said that forestry officials are conducting investigations to determine the owners of the confiscated wood, many of whom are believed to be prominent businessmen.

“Since we started our operations, many timber owners have run away or thrown their timber away fearing arrest,” he said, adding that nationwide operations would be intensified in the coming weeks.

During a Council of Ministers meeting Friday, Hun Sen called on officials to maintain a hard line against suspected timber smugglers and to punish them without exception. “The crackdown on logging perpetrators is a crackdown on criminals who are considered national traitors,” he said, according to a statement released after the meeting.

The crackdown has so far implicated some prominent figures. Late last week, authorities in Siem Reap province raided warehouses belonging to tycoon Sok Kong, senator and businessman Lao Meng Khin and Ang Try, the owner of the Tiger Beer licence for Cambodia.

Authorities also raided four warehouses in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district over the weekend, district deputy police chief Chan Sahuth said Sunday.

“All woods were confiscated and transferred to forestry officials,” he said. “We are continuing to seek other locations, but I think it is almost finished.”

Nhim Seila, deputy military police commander for Siem Reap, said that since the four stockpiles were raided last week, seven people – including two low-ranking military police officers – have been arrested.

He said he was “waiting to cooperate” with court and Forestry Administration officials, and that he would provide armed security for them in the event of any further raids.

Mixed motives
Bunra Seng, country director of Conservation International, said he was “very happy” with news of the crackdown, and urged the government to maintain its campaign.

“The people just look at the pond, but they don’t know how many fishes there are. But when there’s a crackdown like this, we can see how much illegal activity there is in Cambodia, how many people are involved and who they are,” he said, though he added that he wanted “more details” on the scope and aim of the campaign.

Some observers, however, said the current campaign – like others in the past – will do little to prevent illegal logging in the long term.

“These crackdowns happen sporadically.... If you look at history, [the logging] will continue after this calms down,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. He said that Hun Sen’s current zeal for eradicating illegal logging is more likely linked to a quarrel between senior officials over scarce timber resources.

“There might be different groups fighting for the same piece of cake,” he said. “My bet is that it’s [designed] to put an end to quarrelling within the ruling elite.”

Government critics also point to the fact that prominent figures, such as those linked to the Siem Reap stockpiles, have not yet been prosecuted for possessing illegal timber.

“We welcome the operation, but I wonder why authorities only confiscated the timber and did not arrest the perpetrators and punish them,” Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said Sunday.

Ou Virak said that without clear punishments, there was no financial incentive to get out of the illegal wood trade. “It clearly makes sense for people to take the risk: The rewards are very great, but the punishments are minimal. And you always have the option of paying your way out,” he said.

However, Ty Sokun said that in the cases of Sok Kong, Lao Meng Khin and Ang Try there was insufficient evidence to file complaints to the courts.

He said Sok Kong’s warehouse had the necessary licences to stock rare hardwoods, while the timber at Lao Meng Khin’s facility was likely owned by his relatives, who had maintained the stocks for several years for use in a hotel development.

Officials were still investigating the case of Ang Try, and are waiting to see if he has the necessary approval from the authorities, Ty Sokun said.

“The cases in Siem Reap have not yet been filed to the court,” he said.

According to the 2002 Forestry Law, he said, people convicted of illegal logging or receiving benefits from the sale of valuable timber face fines of between 10 and 100 million riels (about US$24,000) and face between one and five years’ jail.


Angkor Wat doomed by drought, floods, suggests tree ring study

Tree Rings, Climate Change and the Rainy Season from Earth Institute on Vimeo.

Towers of Prasat Suor Prat at Angkor Wat ((b) north face of the N2 tower of Prasat Suor Prat)
Map showing location of Angkor Wat (c) and map of temple canals and reservoirs
(By Elsevier, Department of Angkor Conservation)

Mar 29, 2010
By Dan Vergano
USA Today

The ancient Cambodian capital of Angkor Wat suffered decades of drought interspersed with monsoon lashings that doomed the city six centuries ago, suggests a Monday tree-ring study.

A 979-year record of tree rings taken from Vietnam's highlands, released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal and led by Brendan Buckley of Columbia University, finds the, "Angkor droughts were of a duration and severity that would have impacted the sprawling city's water supply and agricultural productivity, while high-magnitude monsoon years damaged its water control infrastructure."

Alternating effects of El Nino and La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean, as the northern hemisphere shifted a period of medieval warmth to the "Little Ice Age" of the 17th Century, may have whipsawed the region where Angkor Wat once stood. The "hydraulic city", center of the Khmer empire from the 9th to the 15th Century, was built of impressive temples standing amid nearly 400 square miles of canals and reservoirs called "baray", according to a 2009 Journal of Environmental Management study.

Many of those canals and baray appear silted up by drought, says the PNAS paper, which left them wide open for flooding from the intense monsoons of the early 15th century. "Much like the Classic Maya cities in Mesoamerica in the period of their ninth century 'collapse' and the implicated climate crisis, Angkor declined from a level of high complexity and regional hegemony after the droughts of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries," says the study. " The temple of Angkor Wat itself, however, survived as a Buddhist monastery to the present day."

A 2005 Journal of Archaeological Science study found that a typical Angkor temple may have taken more than a century to build.

While some scholars suggest that trade interests led to the capital moving to Phnom Penh in the mega-monsoon era, the study concludes, "decades of weakened summer monsoon rainfall, punctuated by abrupt and extreme wet episodes that likely brought severe flooding that damaged flood-control infrastructure, must now be considered an additional, important, and significant stressor occurring during a period of decline. Interrelated infrastructural, economic, and geopolitical stresses had made Angkor vulnerable to climate change and limited its capacity to adapt to changing circumstances."

The audio slideshow above features the researchers at work.

BOONE LIFE: Cambodian Buddhist monk a spiritual leader

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mey Savann is the the only Cambodian Buddhist monk who lives and practices in Missouri. He came to the Wat Angkor Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Hallsville in October 2005 after learning that the Cambodian Buddhist community was in need of a spiritual leader.

HALLSVILLE — A haze of sunlight streams in through the trailer temple’s window, illuminating the peaceful quiet that envelops Mey Savann as he begins to close his eyes and chant.

Savann is a Cambodian Buddhist monk and the spiritual leader at the Wat Angkor Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Hallsville. He is the only Cambodian Buddhist monk who lives and practices in Missouri.

Savann immigrated to the United States from Cambodia in 2001. In October 2005, he moved to Hallsville to become the spiritual leader for the Cambodian community in mid-Missouri.

“The reason I like to reside here in Hallsville is because of spreading the religion of Buddhism, which is my main object," Savann, who only speaks Cambodian, said through a translator. "I moved from California [to Missouri] because there was no Buddhist monk who resides here.”

As a Cambodian Buddhist monk, Savann’s day-to-day activities include five main things: searching for donations, meditation, thinking about the life of Buddha, trying to figure out the life beyond ours and trying to understand what the future will hold.

Savann said he became a Buddhist in 1980 when he was just 18-years-old. He said he became a monk because “to become a monk is to represent the culture, the tradition, of the Cambodian family.”

According to Buddhist tradition, monks rely on lay people to provide them with their basic needs.

“In our community, we have maybe more than 300 or 400, but it’s throughout the state – it’s not just from Columbia," said member Phillip Path. "We have people from St. Louis, Kansas City, and other surrounding areas from here, and it’s not just Cambodian, we have many other nationalities too that become Buddhist members."

Different families within the local Cambodian community provide Savann with food on different days. “Sometimes I like all the food, but sometimes I have to watch for my health too, and so some food I cannot eat as much of,” Savann said.

Being surrounded by community is a comfort to Savann. He said he feels that being the only monk and living alone can become a bit lonely sometimes. Savann does not like to focus on the future and instead pays attention to the present, but he said he hopes that someday another monk may join him and help in his work.

Leang Seckon's First European Solo Exhibition Opens at Rossi & Rossi

Leang Seckon, Golden Flower Skirt (2009) Mixed media on canvas, 150 x 130 cm.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

LONDON.- Rossi & Rossi present Leang Seckon in the artist’s first European solo exhibition. Among the foremost members of the emerging Cambodian contemporary art scene he was born at the onset of the American bombings of Indochina and grew up during the rise of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. As a result of these tumultuous years he was left without a birth certificate and unable to verify his exact age.

In this exhibition the artist will present some twenty paintings and collages centered around a sculptural installation, all based on the theme of the skirt his mother wore during pregnancy and his infancy. Each work contains an allegory wrapped in the memories and personal narratives of Seckon’s childhood and chronicles an undocumented Cambodia. Within the omnipresent spectre of warfare and violence Seckon depicts, there is an irrepressible fire of the spirit and culture of the Cambodian people.

The painting Golden Flower Skirt presents a patchwork of grain silos, flowers and pagodas recalled by the artist as the “golden times” of childhood. The idyllic pastoral scene is overcast by the outline of an American aircraft which he recalls bombing a Buddhist ceremony, killing a monk in the process. Whilst the recollection is visually lush and joyous, the plane’s shadow leaves an indelible and threatening mark.

The Singing Soldier depicts a visceral experience the artist had while viewing his first musical performance in 1982. At the climax of the concert a row of government soldiers who were providing security fired off a salvo of bullets above the heads of the crowd. Although no one was harmed, the event quickly dissolved into chaos. This memory, depicted through a collage of appropriated images and drawings of Cambodian and western pop singers, both past and present, fades almost cinematically into a drawing of an assault rifle juxtaposed next to the artist, dressed in military uniform, singing into a microphone.

As a final example, the installation Heavy Skirt (pictured), which anchors the exhibition, presents a skeleton dressed in a uniform constructed from materials signifying numerous roles in Cambodian society. Both hero and villain, he stands on a pedestal surrounded by the mother’s skirt. Representative of all Cambodians, he is nurtured and cared for by the mother only, inevitably, to grow and change over the course of life into someone she no longer recognises.

Leang Seckon was born in Prey Veng province, Cambodia, in the early 1970s. A 2002 graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, his works have appeared as illustrations throughout Cambodia and the United States. Noted exhibitions include the 4th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale in Japan in 2009, the ASEAN New Zero Contemporary Art Exchange, Yangon, Myanmar, also in 2009, and his Rubbish Project (2008) a public project in Phnom Penh.

8th Annual Cambodian Festival Is Saturday, April 3rd

Cambodian Festival Is Saturday, April 3rd

The 8th annual Cambodian Festival will be held this Saturday, April 3rd from 10:30am to 5pm on 98th St. SW between 15th Ave. SW and 16th Ave. SW in White Center, and will include live music, traditional and classical dances, traditional Cambodian food, games, prizes and much more.

It’s sure to be another diverse, cultural celebration that continues to make this community so lively.

Oh, and it’s also FREE!

Here are the details:

WHAT: 8th annual Cambodian Festival

WHEN: Saturday, April 3rd from 10:30am to 5pm.

WHERE: On 98th St. SW between 15th Ave. SW and 16th Ave. SW in White Center.

INFO: Here’s a poster:

Petronas scheduled to exit Cambodia in April

After cutting petrol stations to just one, Malaysian firm to leave

Photo by: Pha Lina
Vehicles fill up Monday at the only remaining Petronas petrol station in Cambodia, located on Mao Tse-tung Boulevard in the capital. The Malaysian energy firm is scheduled to leave Cambodia next month, according to representatives.

THE Malaysian oil company Petronas Cambodia Co Ltd will quietly withdraw its business from Cambodia next month, becoming the second oil supplier to leave the country in recent years, a local company staff member told the Post Monday.

“We were extremely shocked when the company told us that they would withdraw investment in Cambodia from next month,” said the staff member, who asked not to be named.

In an internal memo sent from Petronas’ 29 Cambodian staff members to management in November, employees said they were disheartened to hear the news.

“We know that Petronas Cambodia Co Ltd was not making any profit for the past several years, but in recent years we have turned around the company from making losses to breaking even, and this year we are making a profit,” they wrote. “We hope that in the future we will do our best to make more profit for the company.”

The staff memo requested $5,000 per person for “pocket money” on top of six months’ severance required by law, “so that some of our staff can do some small business for their living”. Some staff told the Post that Petronas paid some employees Monday $1,000 each by cheque. Others had been paid more, they said, but less than the requested $5,000.

The Petronas withdrawal follows the exit of Shell Co in 2007. With the Petronas exit, Cambodia will now have 11 petrol distributors.

Petronas opened in Cambodia in 1994 with 19 stations, but these gradually dwindled to one, the staff member said.

Total assets for the Cambodian branch of the Malaysian national company stood at $7.5 million, including an oil-storage facility in Samrong Thom commune, Kean Svay district, Kandal Province.

Petronas has sold its assets and licences to American Lube Co Ltd, a local oil dealer, the staff member said.

Petronas had undertaken wholesale and power plant supply but sales dropped consistently, from 10,000 tonnes per month in 2006 to around 2,000 tonnes a month today, the staff member said.

An engineer at the company said Monday he was not aware of the pullout, but he confirmed the sale of assets to American Lube.

“It may be just changes from foreign management to Cambodian management in order to create more business effectiveness,” he said.

Jalaludin Omar, CEO of Petronas Cambodia, and Ngy Iem Tiong, president of American Lube, could not be reached for comment Monday.