Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

From concern to action to protect our historic town of Siem Reap

Experts' concern over unregulated development does not suprise me enough. I tend to take this for granted. What strikes me is the concern pf ordinary people over this issue.

Article "Tourism boom brings hope and worry to Siem Reap, Cambodia's Tourist Hub" is does not seem to appreciate a 17-year old souvenir vendor Suos Samnang (Associate Press, Nov 20, 2006).

Her quote in the article reflects on three shortcomings in this fast growing town that require more attention from the government. First, the lack of control on the environmental issues; second, traffic chaos; and third, migration . The last issue is of course not an easy task to control since we do not any regulation to regulate it and if we do, it would cause great social problems. It is quite common to understand why people migrate.

Tourism boom combined with migration in this town suggests that the national government and local authorities be aware of all emerging issues that could be a potential cause that vanishes our heritage. This of course needs to go beyond the thinking of ordinary people like Suos Samnang.

While the national government and local authorities play an important role in regulating development, espeically in construction industry, and meeting servise demands in this town, private businesses and local people also share responsibility to care of our environment and our heritage.

Reinforcing the capacity of local authorities and promoting civic engagement in solving day-to-day problems is likely the only way to protect the identity of our historic town, Siem Reap, where most of our heritage items are situated.

In so doing, our wrold heritage temple, Angkor Wat, will provide more pride to Cambodia and her people.

Bunnarith Meng
PhD Student in Urban and Regional Planning,
University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA

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U.N. says 39.5 million people have HIV

By ELIANE ENGELER, Associated Press WriterTue Nov 21, 7:19 AM ET


The global HIV epidemic is growing, leaving an estimated 39.5 million people worldwide infected with the deadly virus, the United Nations said Tuesday.

AIDS has claimed 2.9 million lives this year and another 4.3 million people became infected with HIV, according to the U.N.'s AIDS epidemic update report, published on Tuesday. Spread of the disease was most noticeable in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since the first case was reported in 1981, making it one of the most destructive illnesses in history.

"In a short quarter of a century AIDS has drastically changed our world," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at a staff meeting Monday in Geneva. "AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria make up the deadliest triad the world has known."

But he said improvement in treatment, more resources and higher political commitment over the past 10 years gave rise to optimism.

The joint report by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization acknowledged that access to HIV/AIDS treatment has made a great leap forward in recent years, enabling many infected people to live longer. But it said much remained to be done, especially in prevention.

Sub-Saharan Africa — with 63 percent or 24.7 million of the world's infected people — bears the highest burden, but in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia there are 21 percent more people living with HIV than two years ago.

The virus spread fastest in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a nearly 70 percent increase in new infections over the past two years. In South and Southeast Asia, the number of new infections has grown by 15 percent since 2004, while it rose by 12 percent in North Africa and the Middle East. In Latin America, the Caribbean and North America it remained roughly stable.

All regions of the world have had an increase in the number of people living with the deadly virus over the past two years, the report said. In some countries this was due to better access to medicine keeping people alive longer.

Never before have so many women been infected with HIV. There are 17.7 million women worldwide carrying the virus, an increase of more than 1 million compared with two years earlier. The proportion of women among the infected is particularly striking in sub-Saharan Africa where they account for 59 percent of the people with HIV/AIDS.

The report doesn't break down the estimates country by country, but it said the United States — for which figures were available for 2005 only — had 1.2 million people living with HIV last year. The U.S. therefore ranks among the top 10 countries in terms of infected people.

Unprotected sex in prostitution and between men, as well as unsafe drug injecting represent the highest risks for HIV infection and the main reasons for the spread of the disease in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, it said.

After sub-Saharan Africa, Asia is the second most infected region. Almost 8 million of the world's people with HIV/AIDS live in South and South East Asia. The report said there is increasing evidence for HIV outbreaks among men who have sex with each other in Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand, but it said few of these countries' AIDS programs really address the problem of sex between males.

In North America, an estimated 1.4 million people are infected, which represents a steady increase over the past few years mainly due to the life-prolonging impact of antiretrovirals.

In the United States, people from racial and ethnic minorities are more affected by the epidemic, with half of the AIDS diagnoses between 2001 and 2004 among African Americans and 20 percent among Hispanics.

But infected people in the U.S. have been benefiting from more effective treatment over the past few years, leading to a 21-percent increase of infected people surviving two years or longer since the early 1990s.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Authorities Confirm Investigation Into Dead Officer's Past

Related To Story

Video: SAN FRANCISCO: Rita Williams Reports On SFPD Officer's Suicide In Cambodia Spurring New Investigation - http://www.ktvu.com/news/10340307/detail.html

Authorities Confirm Investigation Into Dead Officer's Past

POSTED: 6:49 pm PST November 16, 2006
UPDATED: 7:01 pm PST November 16, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal authorities confirmed Thursday an investigation into the past actions of San Francisco police Officer Donald Ramirez, who died of an apparent suicide last month in a Cambodian jail cell where he was being held for sex crimes.

The death of Officer Donald Ramirez, 50, has some in and around the Police Department calling for a renewed investigation into whether he was traveling for years to Southeast Asia for sexual tourism -- a name given to the crime of traveling overseas to solicit children for sex.

On the evening of Oct. 31, police Sgt. Neville Gittens confirmed that Ramirez, a 25-year veteran of the force, had killed himself days earlier in a jail cell in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Local authorities had apparently arrested Ramirez for sexual activity with a 14-year girl.

A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday that Ramirez had been under investigation since 2001 when the San Francisco Police Department reported his suspicious travels.

According to Virginia Kice, immigration officials searched Ramirez as he came into the country several times but they never found any evidence of a crime.

"We have received several new leads and we will pursue those vigorously," Kice said.

Akha human rights activist Matthew McDaniel says he told an FBI agent that Ramirez "… had a real appetite for underage girls" when the agent contacted him a decade ago in Burma. McDaniel became aware of Ramirez and his habits when the officer frequented the village of Chiang Rei on the Thai-Burmese border when the activist lived there in the mid-1990s.

And McDaniel and sources in the police department told KTVU reporter Rita Williams that other officers sometimes accompanied Ramirez on his extended visits and returned to work to brag about it.

Thursday, the mayor reacted by saying that there will be an internal investigation in the police department to see who knew what and when.

"Look, we take this seriously. I take this seriously," said Mayor Newsom. "We're going to do what's appropriate."

Police Chief Heather Fong also addressed questions about the renewed investigation into Ramirez's past and whether anyone in the department knew whether or not he traveled to Southeast Asia for sexual tourism.

"As the federal investigation moves forward, and there's information, the department will take any necessary steps," Fong said. "If people had factual information then that is a problem. We are law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect the public and to enforce the law, so if someone is aware of criminal activity and they choose not to do anything about it, that is a problem."

Police commissioner Joe Veronese said last week of the investigation that "there was no greater issue in the department than this." The police commission, however, has yet to announce if it will take up the issue.

Other police organizations are staying away from any involvement in the incident.

"Whatever he does in his off-duty time is his matter," Police Officers Association Vice President Kevin Martin said. "This is not a POA issue."
Copyright 2006 by KTVU.com and Bay City News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Songwriters and composers rare in Cambodian music

By Cat Barton and Cheang Sokha
Phnom Penh Post, Issue 15 / 23, November 17 - 30, 2006

Sapoun Midada is a different kind of superstar. Unlike many of Cambodia's famous singers, he writes all of his songs himself.

"It is hard and takes a lot of time to compose an entire song and write lyrics, too," he said. "You have to think about what will appeal to people of all generations. Composition is hard, far harder than being a singer who just learns a song and performs it."

A singer who composes original songs is a rare thing, said Sim Sarak, director-general of administration at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MCFA).

"There is a real lack of talented songwriters and composers in Cambodia today," he said. "The old generation had talent and experience but the new generation lost [access to] all of this due to the Khmer Rouge"

Cambodia's many years of civil strife decimated the music production industry. This has ramifications for the quality of the music being produced today, Sarak said.

"The quantity of Cambodian singers has certainly increased in recent years," he said "But when we talk of quality, this generation cannot compare to the last."

Although Cambodia's younger generation may have raw talent, they have minimal guidance as to how best to develop it, he said.

"At the moment in Cambodia we have many very gifted singers, but no songwriters, no composers," Sarak said. "Those we have working at the moment lack experience."

As a consequence of the lack of experienced songwriters and composers, many of the production companies are simply reproducing Cambodian classics - songs written in the 1960s or earlier - to meet growing market demand, Sarak said.

"We allow [production companies] to reproduce songs as I think this is good for Cambodia's music industry," Sarak said. "It saves time as we don't have to wait for new composers to write songs to meet public demand. If we didn't give companies permission to reproduce old classics there would hardly be any songs released at the moment."

Following introduction in 2003 of copyright law to Cambodia, production companies now have to seek permission from either the original composer or the MCFA to produce a cover version of an existing song.

"According to the law, if any composer is alive, the production company seeking to reproduce their songs must ask permission from them," Sarak said. "But Article 19 of the copyright law specifies that if the singer is deceased, the Ministry of Fine Arts manages their songs for them."

The MCFA charges a flat fee of $7 to cover a song but this money is immediately passed on to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The people who are really making money from Cambodia's growing love of music are not the government, but the production companies, Sarak said.

"The production companies make money from CD and VCD sales," he said. "Some songs are used in films or advertisements, and that generates a lot of revenue for the companies too."

Despite the introduction of copyright law in Cambodia, the companies are still losing out due to the ready availability of pirated CDs and VCDs on the streets. But the government is poised to take action.

"Pirated music is a big problem for Cambodian production companies," Sarak said. "We have created an interministerial commission to crack down on unlicensed CDs and VCDs. We can tell which are fake and which are real and we will start to confiscate all the fake ones and take them off the market."

The ministry is preparing to clean up the Cambodian music industry by taking action against piracy, and it is also committed to encouraging the younger generation to create original material, Sarak said.

"The faculty of music at the Royal University of Fine Arts is helping the younger generation to learn how to create both pop and classical music," Sarak said. "We also have created many incentives for young people to make new music. I hope that they will be encouraged to do so, I hope they grow up wanting to be famous and are thus inspired to create original songs of their own."

In the interim, many of Cambodia's most prominent pop stars draw heavily on music from other countries - for example, producing cover versions of Thai or American chart toppers. This is understandable and acceptable, said Midada, but it will hopefully not be an ongoing process.

"As you know we have just passed out of the war," he said. "Many writers or composers were killed or fled so we now lack writers and composers. I think at the moment it is ok that we draw sometimes on other culture's music - now with globalization everyone copies and learns from each other - but I love to write my own songs and as long as the audience still likes them, I will keep going."

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Develop the City, as Well as A Conscience

Friday, November 17, 2006

Letter to the Editor
The Cambodia Daily

It does not shock me that old buildings are replaced by new ones. This is what we call "development. What shocks me is that some people want to do things without conscience and with a lack of understanding of local culture, tradition and heritage.

Regarding Wednesday's article "B' bang Villagers Block Attempt to Demolish 100-Year-Old Temple" (page 21), it will be regretful if this 100-year-old temple is lost. It will never return.

In some countries, buildings, or even trees, that are older than 50 years are subject to an assessment for their heritage status. This is even more urgent in fast growing cities like Phnom Penh.

In this city, two issues are popular for developers and rich elites.

First they usually look to replace old buildings with modern high-rise ones. Buildings that can be classified as heritage items must be properly registered and the heritage inventory must be publicly known.

The second issue Phnom Penh is experiencing is the loss of lakes. Lakes could be important assets if we preserve them and use them wisely. Before it is too late, we must be aware of our vanishing heritage.

Only the government can accomplish this task. Decentralizing and devolving power to local authorities is of course a way to achieve "good governance." But local authorities' capacities need to be strengthened to ensure more effective decisions, to avoid such cases as the temple's proposed demolition.

Bunnarith Meng,
PhD student,
Dept of Urban and Regional Planning
University of Hawaii at Manoa,

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Water Festival Ends With Award Ceremony

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni, applauds to the crowd as he presides over the last day of the three-day annual water festival at the Tonle Sap River in front of the Royal Palace Monday, Nov. 6, 2006, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. More than one million people were expected to stream into the capital for the festival that is dedicated to the kingdom's ancestral naval warriors, which are believed to provide vital natural resources including fish to Cambodians. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian racers row their wooden boats past hundreds of spectators at the Tonle Sap River in front of the Royal Palace Monday, Nov. 6, 2006, the last day of the three-day annual water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. More than one million people were expected to stream into the capital for the festival that is dedicated to the kingdom's ancestral naval warriors moreover to the mighty of Mekong water that provides vital natural resources and fish to the Cambodians. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006
By Lor Chandara

The 2006 Water Festival wrapped up Monday night with trophies presented by King Norodom Sihamoni to the fastest and most beautiful boats in the regatta.

Twenty-one of Cambodia's 24 provinces and municipalities competed in the three days of racing during which 409 racing boats entered the competition.

The fastest boat, clocking 26 minutes, 29 seconds in three races that started at the Japanese Friendship Bridge and ended in front of the Royal Palace, was the Odong Meachey Baromei Vang Chas boat from Kompong Speu province's Odong district.

In second place at 26:33 was the Kirivong Sok Senchey boat from Kirivong district in Takeo province.

The third fastest boat with 26:46 minutes was the Akthireach Chakraphup Raingsey boat from Kompong Thom province.

Three boats received awards for the best decorations: the Samrek Reachsei Baromei Tamol Leou from Kompong Chhnang province, the Preahnet Tip from Kandal province, and the Koh Keo Sen Dekchas from Preah Vihear province.

Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Thong Khon said that last year's Greater Mekong Subregion race, which featured boats from the region and in which Thailand narrowly beat Cambodia in a dramatic final, was not repeated this year.

"That was a one-time special event," he said.

Initial government estimates indicate that more tourists from Europe attended this year's festival, but exact numbers of arrivals were not available Monday.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Thousands turned out to cheer Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni as he officially opened the traditional Water Festival

Cambodia oarsmen wait at the start point during the first day of the annual Water Festival celebrations on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh November 4, 2006. About 24,000 oarsmen in more than 400 boats will compete in the three-day race. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Thousands turned out to cheer Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni as he officially opened the traditional Water Festival on Saturday, apparently undaunted by earlier reports the event had been targeted by terrorists.

The king marked the official beginning of the colourful three-day celebration by lighting a torch which will burn for the duration of the festival, the centerpiece of which is the traditional longboat racing competition on the Tonle Sap river which runs through the capital.

Also in attendance for the official opening were Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate chief Chea Sim and the new leader of the royalist Funcinpec Party, Keo Puth Rasmei.

Interior Ministry officials on Thursday revealed they had arrested six men and charged them with planning to bomb the festival and were still seeking more suspects in the foiled attack, and security will remain on high alert for the duration of the event.

Around 1.5 million people are expected to flood into the capital for the festival, which marks the end of the monsoon season and the reversal of the flow of the river.

The Tonle Sap is possibly the only major river in the world which changes directions with the change of seasons as monsoon flood waters stream out of the huge inland lake upriver and out into the sea.

Although 24,000 racers have turned out to man the hundreds of boats which will compete during the event, officials said crowds so far have been down on last year.

Visitors said they believed this was not due to fears of terror attacks, but rather the skyrocketing price of transport as petrol prices in the country continue to hover at around a dollar a liter.

"People just cannot afford to come from their home provinces to visit the capital. They don't care about terrorism, they are poor and they care about money," one provincial visitor from central Kampong Thom province, around 200 kilometers from the capital, said.

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24,000 Racers Set to Participate in Water Festival

Cambodian racers row their wooden boat for contest upon a water festival at the Tonle Sap river in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2006. A three days of annual water festival is starting from this Saturday up to Monday is to be dedicated to the Kingdom ancestral naval warrior moreover to the mighty of Mekong water that provides a vital natural resources and fishes to Cambodian. The events are expected to stream more than one million people in to capital to feature the 409 of wooden dragon boat racing. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Saturday and Sunday, November 4-5, 2006

Some 24,000 boat racers—manning a total of 409 racing boats— arrived in Phnom Penh from the provinces on Thursday to attend this weekend's Water Festival, an event organizer said Friday.

The racers, many of whom are staying in makeshift tents on the Chroy Changvar peninsula, are urged not to drink alcohol or visit brothels during their stay, said Nhem Vary, deputy secretary-general of the National and International Festival Organizing Committee.

"From one year to another our Water Festival has grown bigger in terms of people's participation," he said.

King Norodom Sihamoni will officially open the festival outside the Royal Palace on Saturday afternoon. Prime Minister Hun Sen will attend the ceremony, Nhem Vary added.

Many of the boats participating are named in honor of top-ranking government officials. There will be no boat named after ousted Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in contrast to previous years, officials said.

SRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang accused the CPP of exploiting the races to reap political benefits. CPP lawmaker Nhim Vanda, who is sponsoring a boat whose name celebrates the victories of Hun Sen, denied Eng Chhay Eang's claims. The boat's name will bring good luck he said.

"Each boat wants to get victory. Last year we won," he said.

In front of the Royal Palace on Friday afternoon, Chan Dong, a rower from Prey Veng province on a boat sponsored by CPP Interior Ministry Secretary of State Prum Sokha, was preparing to warm up.

"I am very happy to be here to show our strength," he said.

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Bon Om Tuk - Water Festival at Phnom Penh, Cambodia

By Sam Rith
Phnom Penh Post, Issue 15 / 22, November 3 - 16, 2006

To longtime residents and experienced riverside observers, the indications are immediate and unmistakable.

Chanting boatmen knifing through pre-dawn waters, jostling throngs of onlookers crowding the river's edge and the mass mushrooming of vendor booths, wicker sellers and trinket stalls can only mean one thing - the madness of Bon Om Tuk is about to descend upon Phnom Penh.

For three days the city will be transformed from capital to carnival; from a business center to a bacchanal.

According to event officials and local authorities, roughly 2.5 million people from throughout Cambodia are expected to converge on Phnom Penh's riverside this year to celebrate the annual water festival, Bon Om Tuk, between November 4 and November 6. Last year's celebration peaked, on its second day, with two million revelers, Minister of Tourism Lay Prohas told the Post.

"There will be from two to three million coming to Phnom Penh to celebrate the water festival because this year our country is peaceful, has political stability, and many people have a better standard of living," said Min Khin, secretary-general of the National Festival Committee and secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs.

Khin said his committee has worked with Phnom Penh Municipality to place 200 mobile toilets along the riverfront and other places for people who come to watch the water festival.

Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh police chief, said he will have 3,000 officers on duty for 24 hours a day during the three day event - the force will be selected from the municipality police and military police and does not include additional forces to be supplied by the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior.

Khin said this year festival expenses will total at least $225,000 - the same as 2005, but down $25,000 from 2004, according to Ministry of Finance figures.

Khin said this year there are 450 registered dragon boats crewed by about 25,000 to 30,000 male and female rowers. There will be nine floats, called pratip, representing, among others, the Royal Palace, Senate, National Assembly, Government, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Tourism, and this year a private-enterprise newcomer - the ANZ bank. Last year there were 400 boats, 20,000 rowers and eight pratip.

This year will follow the same format as previous years, Khin said. He said the committee has organized places for musical performances, shows and vendors at Hun Sen park, the park in front of Wat Botum, Psar Chas park and in Chruoy Changvar. Musicians will perform chapei and ayai at Preahmeru (Veal Menh), the park in front of the National Museum, and also in front of the Royal Palace.

"We have hundreds of people managing the festival," Khin said. "We have the racing committee, a security committee, a health committee, a decorating committee, and so on."

Nou Phan, 51, from Choeung Dek village, Trabek district in Prey Veng, said on October 31 that he had come with his wife and two of his children and had been waiting to watch the water festival in Phnom Penh for a week and he said his family will go back to Prey Veng when the water festival finishes.

"I have come to see how Phnom Penh has developed," Phan said. "I also brought my wife and two of my children to watch the boat racing and to see Phnom Penh during the water festival in order to relieve some stress - this year our rice plant was destroyed and we owe our neighbor two million riel for buying fertilizer."

Nou Phan said Phnom Penh now has nice gardens and mobile toilets along the riverfront and it is easy for him and his family, who do not have any relatives in Phnom Penh. At night, Phan, his wife and his children sleep on the riverfront.

Pol Mach, 48, a vendor across the river in Chruoy Changvar, said there will be more people going to Chruoy Changvar this year because it has more space than the Phnom Penh side. Mach expects to capitalize on his location.

Mach said last year he earned 700,000 to 800,000 riel each day during the water festival selling banhchav (dumplings), drinks, boiled snails and eggs. On a normal day he earns from 100,000 to 200,000 riel.

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