Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fighting Brothels With Books

No investment in poor countries gets more bang for the buck than educating girls. Literate girls are in less danger of being trafficked, they have fewer children, care for their children better and are better able to earn a decent living.

By Nicholas D. Kristof
Posted on theday.com (Connecticut, USA)

Three years ago, I purchased two teenage girls from the Cambodian brothels that enslaved them and returned them to their families. Plenty of readers promptly wrote to say: “Buy one for me, too.

Those readers had honorable intentions (I think) and simply wanted to do something concrete to confront global poverty and sex trafficking. But buying enslaved girls isn't a general solution — partly because it raises the market price and increases the incentive to kidnap other girls and sell them to brothels.

I'm still in touch with the two girls and visited them on this trip (video of them is at nytimes.com/kristof); one is back in the brothel, and the other is now married and pregnant with her first child in her village. They are wonderful young women and powerful reminders of the need to do more to address human trafficking — but the conventional tools to do so are wrenchingly inadequate.

So, let me share the (happy!) story of a group of kids who have found a way — from Washington state, no less — to fight illiteracy and sex trafficking here in this remote and squalid town of Pailin in western Cambodia.

I stumbled across their effort by chance as I visited an elementary school here that bore an English sign with the name “Overlake School.” Rural Cambodian schools normally are dilapidated and bare, but astonishingly this one had an English teacher who ushered me into a classroom in which sixth-grade students were pecking away at computers connected to a satellite dish.

“Many of my students have e-mail addresses,” said the teacher, Tay Khy. “They e-mail students in America.”

This remarkable scene — barefoot students with Yahoo accounts — came to pass because Francisco Grijalva, principal of the Overlake School in Redmond, Wash., read about an aid group called American Assistance for Cambodia (www.cambodiaschools.com) that builds schools in rural Cambodia. He proposed that his 450 students, in grades five through 12, sponsor construction of an elementary school in Cambodia.

Enthusiastic fund-raising

The students responded enthusiastically. They held bake sales and talent shows and gathered the $15,500 necessary to build a school.

In 2003, Grijalva led a delegation of 19 from his school for the opening of the one in Cambodia. Overwhelmed by the experience, the American students then decided to sponsor an English teacher and an e-mail system for the school. This year, a dozen of the American students came to teach English to the Cambodian pupils.

Kun Sokkea, a sixth-grader at the Cambodian school, keeps a picture that the Americans gave her of their school and marvels at its otherworldly beauty. She inhabits a world that few American pupils could envision: Her father died of AIDS, her mother is now dying as well, she has never been to a dentist and she has just one shirt that she can wear to school.

She led me to her home, a rickety wooden shack with no electricity or plumbing. Kun Sokkea fetches drinking water from the local creek — where she also washes her clothes. When I asked if she ever drank milk, she said doubtfully that she used to — as a baby, from her mother.

Neither of her parents ever had even a year of schooling, and if it hadn't been for the American students, she wouldn't have had much either. That would have made her vulnerable to traffickers, who prey on illiterate girls from the villages.

Building schools doesn't solve the immediate problem of girls currently enslaved inside brothels — that requires more rigorous law enforcement, crackdowns on corruption and outspoken diplomacy (it would help if President Bush spotlighted the issue in his State of the Union address). But in the long run no investment in poor countries gets more bang for the buck than educating girls. Literate girls not only are in less danger of being trafficked, but later they have fewer children, care for their children better and are much better able to earn a decent living.

Meanwhile, the Americans insist that they have benefited just as much from the relationship. “After going to Cambodia, my plans for the future have changed,” said Natalie Hammerquist, a 17-year-old who regularly e-mails two Cambodian students. “This year I'm taking three foreign languages, and I plan on picking up more in college.”

As for Grijalva, he says, “This project is simply the most meaningful and worthwhile initiative I have undertaken in my 36 years in education.”

Nicholas Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times.

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US told to consider local sensitivity in democracy blitz in Asia

A congressional report based on a recent mission to Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, said the United States should take into account local sensitivities in its bid to promote democracy and good governance in Asia.(AFP/Illustration)

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States should take into account local sensitivities in its bid to promote democracy and good governance in Asia, says a congressional report based on a recent mission to the region.

The mission by the Senate foreign relations committee was aimed at examining the state of democracy in the region, with particular emphasis on programs supported with US government funding via nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

It covered Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and was part of a broad study that also included Africa, Central Europe and Latin America.

The report also wanted US-funded democracy promotion efforts in Asia to focus on building democratic institutions and "avoid the occasional perception of targeting or promoting political personalities."

It said "US government officials should recognize that effective promotion of democracy and good governance in Asia requires acknowledgement of cultural and national sensitivities.

"Definitions of democracy may vary," it said.

The study was conducted amid concerns that governments across the world had increasingly tightened controls on foreign NGOs to restrict their ability to work independently.

In Thailand, for example, the study found that the military junta which overthrew the democratically elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra in September allowed US NGOs to "operate freely and without intimidation or harassment."

Under the Thaksin administration, some US NGO phones were tapped and "under constant surveillance by Thai police authorities," one US NGO representative told US Senate staff conducting the survey.

The report cautioned that the "full limits of freedom in operation may not be fully actualized until martial law is lifted" in Thailand.

It urged US NGOs to work with pro-democracy leaders across party lines to assess how democratic institutions might be strengthened in Thailand to ensure stronger checks and balances within the government and political system.

In Indonesia, the mission found US NGOs facing few or no obstacles with their work. Often they operated with full support of the government, it said.

But one US official noted in the report that when it involved "sensitive" issues, such as human rights or special autonomy for the Indonesian regions of Aceh or Papua, the government "always seem to have suspicions."

Other US officials reported that the Indonesian government "has clearly indicated particular areas which it considers to be 'out of bounds,' for attention by international NGOs."

The report noted that it was often more effective for the US government to work "indirectly" in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim democracy.

As one NGO official stated, "unfortunately in the current environment, direct US assistance is sometimes viewed through a lens of concern related to a range of international affairs issues of immense concern to Indonesians."

Survey responses in Cambodia were mixed as to whether the government allowed NGOs to participate freely and whether they faced bureaucratic obstacles that deliberately prevent them from functioning.

The report said Cambodian government officials had been discussing the possibility of legislation to regulate NGOs.

"While NGOs do not object to registering with the government, the possibility of a law has raised concerns," it said.

The majority of survey respondents said corruption in Cambodia was not taken seriously as an issue in government, and that citizens were afraid to report corrupt businessmen, government officials and politicians.

In Sri Lanka, the report said, NGOs surveyed were not in agreement that the government provided ample space in which they can operate within the country.

In addition, there was no shared consensus that "watchdog organizations fear being coerced politically, economically or physically."

But there was agreement that the government does not take corruption seriously as an issue, the report said.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

News of the weird

News of the weird

Recurring Themes:
In yet another case of a person practicing what is allegedly acceptable in another country but illegal in the United States, a 28-year-old woman from Cambodia was arrested in Las Vegas in October for kissing her 6-year-old son's penis, which she said was simply an expression of motherly love. An official in California's Cambodian Association of America confirmed the custom to the Las Vegas Review-Journal but said it never extends past age 2.

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Travelers share tips, trade stories online

POSTED: 11:02 a.m. EST, December 20, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) -- Had Jani Patokallio relied solely on a printed travel guidebook to plan a recent trip to Cambodia, he might have skipped a visit to Sihanoukville, turned off by talk of bumpy bus rides, bombed out buildings and kidnappings.

But after checking out Wikitravel, one of several free sites that let travelers themselves share information and reviews, he learned the seaside town has changed since the book's printing.

"Five years ago it was absolutely nothing there," said Patokallio, 29, a telecom consultant in Singapore. "Today, it's already a beach resort. There are five-star hotels, good restaurants. The road is paved and rebuilt."

When Patokallio got back, he added his experiences and insights, expanding the entry by 50 percent, so that other travelers might consider a visit, too.

In the old days, travelers had to rely primarily on professional guidebooks, unless they happened to know someone who had gone to, say, Sihanoukville recently.

These Web sites make it possible to find that person who did visit Sihanoukville. Several new ones have emerged in recent months, selling their ability to stay current and cover destinations popular and obscure, even as guidebooks respond by emphasizing their editorial oversight.

Internet Brands Inc.'s Wikitravel and Wikia Inc.'s World Wikia organize user contributions the way a traditional travel guidebook would, with sections on how to get there, what to eat, where to stay and what to do. Powered by technology known as a wiki, anyone may add and change entries regardless of expertise.

Gusto LLC, IgoUgo Inc. and other travel sites take more of a social-networking approach.

Members have personal profile pages just like those on News Corp.'s MySpace. Visitors not only can read what others have to say, but also can find out about the reviewers' personal background: Do they travel with pets or kids? Do they tend to like destinations that are off-the-beaten path?

Varied formats, philosophies

TripAdvisor LLC, meanwhile, offers a blend of wikis and profiles.

One site, Tripmates Inc., even lets people find travel companions or contact locals for one-on-one advice. Joe Voboril, 28, a financial analyst in New York, contacted a Tripmates user in Greece who had highly recommended a sunset cruise that from guidebooks "looked like a touristy dumb idea."

"It was one of the best values," he said. "I never would have done it or looked for it."

RealTravel Inc., meanwhile, has a tool for recommending travel destinations based on criteria you enter, such as budget, age, interests and the size of the traveling party. Matches are made based on what similar users have said about places they've been.

Frommer's, Fodor's and Lonely Planet typically hire locals and seasoned travelers to update their guidebooks every one or two years. Although the publishers acknowledge their paid writers can't cover every single restaurant or hotel, the way scores of volunteers can, they question whether travelers really want everything.

"There's so much information out there that people want somebody to discriminate for them," said Michael Spring, publisher of Frommer's Travel Guides, a division of John Wiley & Sons Inc. "We're not doing anyone a favor to list 100 places. You want someone to say this is better than that."

The philosophy extends to the guidebooks' Web sites. Lonely Planet Publications Inc. has a lively online forum for discussions about everything travel, but when it comes to reviews, the publisher wants readers to respond only to items written by professional writers.

"That's who we are, and people look to us for that impartial review," said Brice Gosnell, Lonely Planet's publisher for the Americas.

Lori Gauld, 34, said she likes RealTravel for its journaling features but prefers guidebooks for planning trips.

"I write all my notes (and use) Post-its, highlighters and things like that," the Toronto consultant said. "I can bring the book along."

Credibility questions

Reviewers' credibility is one concern. Sites differ on how they handle hotel owners, tourism officials and others who might want to flood the sites with positive reviews, but all agree it's a potential problem.

Tripmates and other sites let visitors check other travelers' profiles to gauge how alike they are and judge recommendations accordingly. A feature Gusto plans to launch next month will even help users elevate the writings that come from other members they deem friends.

The Web sites, meanwhile, are good for niche travelers and destinations that a travel guidebook might mention in passing, if at all.

Wikitravel, for instance, has a guide for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a set of rugged islands off Antarctica. IgoUgo has entries from users who like to visit lighthouses or travel with a dog. World Wikia has resources on how to hitchhike out of Tokyo.

User-contributed Web sites can afford to devote entire guides for narrower audiences -- World Wikia is trying to start one on Iraq.

But Tim Jarrell, publisher of the Fodor's division of Random House Inc., said such sites have largely been "long on dreams and short on execution."

Many of the community sites started in recent months, meaning the entries are varied and far from complete. Bill Kaufmann, founder of World Wikia, said the site has spent the past three months "laying the groundwork for what I think would be a complete set of guides."

The sites have largely been making money through ads, with a few exploring ways to sell travel services. IgoUgo has links to travel agency Travelocity; both are owned by Sabre Holdings Corp.

Ultimately, travelers may use both in their planning.

"How they are going to get there, where they are going to stay, that's really the stage at which we engage people," said Ken Leeder, RealTravel's chief executive. "Once they go on their trips, absolutely they take their printed travel guides with them."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Analysis: Cambodia oil, blessing or curse?

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The buzz about Cambodia's petroleum potential has many energy firms chomping at the bit to begin drilling, though some predict that the blessing of black gold will be a curse in disguise for a nation that's experienced its share of hardship.

Leading the charge toward full-scale extraction operations is U.S. oil company Chevron, which in the last year sunk many exploratory wells and is reportedly eager to begin offshore drilling in the Gulf of Thailand.

According to the World Bank, Cambodian reserves could contain as many as 2 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of gas, which would make Cambodia the next untapped "hot spot" for multinational oil players.

"Depending upon the world price of oil, Cambodian reserves may be contributing annual revenues of $2 billion per annum -- several times the current level of domestic revenue and ODA [overseas development aid] combined -- within perhaps five to 10 years," read a recent World Bank report.

With that in mind, Chevron and other oil giants are beginning to turn their attention toward Cambodia.

"Energy firms will be eager to capitalize on what could be the world's next great petroleum resource," Dorothea EL Mallakh, director of the International Research Center for Energy and Economic Development, told United Press International.

El Mallakh's prediction of increased interest comes with a caveat, however, a warning that Cambodia ought to be "wary of the pitfalls often associated with petroleum wealth."

Event the World Bank has issued warnings.

"International experience suggests that such petrochemical wealth may equally well result in a 'resource curse' that actually retards development and poverty reduction."

Before inviting the world oil companies, Cambodia might want to take a closer look at other nations that have done the same, such as Nigeria.

Nigeria, which has the highest oil production in Africa, is straining under the "oil curse" amid a growing militancy, which has targeted oil installations, and environmental risks.

Cambodians could easily follow Nigeria's footsteps.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has been accused of traditionally showing little interest in the rights of his people and earlier this month a leading human rights group accused the Cambodian government of interfering with ongoing preparations in the trial of former Khmer Rouge officials.

The Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) -- led by Pol Pot -- is accused of killing almost 2 million Cambodians during their short-lived reign.

International legal officials have expressed dismay with Cambodian authorities, with whom they are trying to draft legal parameters for the trial, saying the Cambodians appear unwilling to cooperate so the trials can commence.

"Political interference has brought the whole process to a screeching halt," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kids With High IQs Grow Up to Be Vegetarians

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Fri Dec 15, 2:01 PM ET

FRIDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- As a child's IQ rises, his taste for meat in adulthood declines, a new study suggests.

British researchers have found that children's IQ predicts their likelihood of becoming vegetarians as young adults -- lowering their risk for cardiovascular disease in the process. The finding could explain the link between smarts and better health, the investigators say.

"Brighter people tend to have healthier dietary habits," concluded lead author Catharine Gale, a senior research fellow at the MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre of the University of Southampton and Southampton General Hospital.

Recent studies suggest that vegetarianism may be associated with lower cholesterol, reduced risk of obesity and heart disease. This might explain why children with high IQs tend to have a lower risk of heart disease in later life.

The report is published in the Dec. 15 online edition of the British Medical Journal.

"We know from other studies that brighter children tend to behave in a healthier fashion as adults -- they're less likely to smoke, less likely to be overweight, less likely to have high blood pressure and more likely to take strenuous exercise," Gale said. "This study provides further evidence that people with a higher IQ tend to have a healthier lifestyle."

In the study, Gale's team collected data on nearly 8,200 men and women aged 30, whose IQ had been tested when they were 10 years of age.

"Children who scored higher on IQ tests at age 10 were more likely than those who got lower scores to report that they were vegetarian at the age of 30," Gale said.

The researchers found that 4.5 percent of participants were vegetarians. Of these, 2.5 percent were vegan, and 33.6 percent said they were vegetarian but also ate fish or chicken.

There was no difference in IQ score between strict vegetarians and those who said they were vegetarian but who said they ate fish or chicken, the researchers add.

Vegetarians were more likely to be female, of higher social class and better educated, but IQ was still a significant predictor of being vegetarian after adjustment for these factors, Gale said.

"Vegetarian diets are associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk in a number of studies, so these findings suggest that a such a diet may help to explain why children or adolescents with a higher IQ have a lower risk of coronary heart disease as adults," Gale said.

One expert said the findings aren't the whole answer, however.

"This study left many unanswered questions such as: Did the vegetarian children grow up in a household with a vegetarian parent? Were meatless meals regularly served in the household? Were the children eating a primarily vegetarian diet at the age of 10?" said Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"In addition, we don't know the beliefs or attitudes of the parents of the children, nor do we know if there was a particular event that led these children to becoming vegetarian in their teens or adulthood," Sandon said.

As the study showed, more women than men chose a vegetarian diet, Sandon noted. "Other research shows that women in general will focus more on their health than men. So, if they believe that a vegetarian diet will have health benefits, they are more likely to follow it," she said.

Given these factors, "we cannot draw any solid conclusions from this research," Sandon added.

Another expert agreed that a vegetarian diet is healthy.

"The evidence linking vegetarianism to good health outcomes is very strong," said Dr. David L. Katz, the director of the Prevention Research Center and an associate professor of public health at the Yale University School of Medicine.

"Studies, for example, of vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists in California suggest that they have lower rates of almost all major chronic diseases, and greater longevity, than their omnivorous counterparts," Katz said. "Evidence is also strong and consistent that greater intelligence, higher education, and loftier social status -- which tend to cluster with one another -- also correlate with good health."

More information

There's more on vegetarian diets at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Sex workers' violent lives

By Dan Poynton
Phnom Penh Post, Issue 15 / 25, December 15 - 28, 2006

Twenty-year-old Sophy sits alone in a corner of a famous Phnom Penh nightclub where she has worked for the past eight years. She is demure and childishly awkward, but her poignant, beautiful face is fiery and fearful. Her voice is gentle, little more than a whisper.

"I was walking home to my family one night, when four boys from my neighborhood grabbed me, and raped me," Sophy said. "Then I wasn't a virgin any more. My dad was sick from cigarettes - he was dying with open wounds all over his legs. I wasn't good for anyone any more, so my mother took me down to this bar for foreigners, and I started being a prostitute. My mother worried about me and waited for me outside the bar every night, because I was 12 years old."

Sophy's experience echoes that of many sex workers in the bars and streets of Phnom Penh. Many of their careers begin with violence, and, according to interviews and recent reports, its specter haunts them always.

"Some customers are very bad; they don't give you any money, even after being with you for several days," said Sophy (not her real name). "Customers hit many girls."

All the street sex workers and brothel-based prostitutes questioned by the Post named violence and rape as their main fears. They barely mentioned AIDS.

"I always make them put on a condom," Sophy said. "But if I go with a man for four or five days, and he likes me, then not using a condom is no problem - especially if he has a blood test."

She said she was unaware of HIV's three-month latency period.

"But violence and HIV infection come together," said Ly Pisey, junior program officer for Womyn's Agenda for Change (WAC), which works with prostitutes throughout Cambodia. "For example, when there are gang rapes, they don't use condoms, or they use plastic sugar bags instead."

Pisey is convinced that the underlying cause of violence towards sex workers is discrimination, in all strata of society.

"Sex workers are considered bad girls - they make society bad," Pisey said.

"This discrimination is linked with violence. If people only talk about AIDS and things, and sex workers are not recognized as human beings with the same rights as other people, the problem of violence and abuse will still be there."

Violence includes rumlop bauk, or gang rape, which is an infamous trend in Cambodia, even among schoolboys. Violence and discrimination are easier to get away with when the crimes are committed by groups or authorities, Pisey says.

"Some police make us eat our own condoms [when they find them on us], or they put salt on our vaginas," said Preung Phanny, 42, a prostitute since 1985. She is also working as a district leader for the Women's' Network for Unity, a sex workers' association supported by WAC.

"The police beat us with sticks and throw rocks at us. They hate us - it's discrimination," Phanny said.

According to Pisey, sex workers suffer violence from gangsters, police, local authorities, and regular customers.

"Sometimes we don't know if violence and rapes are happening because they are too scared to report it," she said. "If sex workers have no power, how can they force a client to use a condom? When they refuse, the client will beat them, or tell the brothel owner."

Pisey said that some aid projects even exacerbate discrimination.

"The 100 Percent Condom Use program was promoted by the government, and they say 90 percent [of sex workers] now use condoms," Pisey said. "But when the police search sex workers, they say 'We have to arrest you - you have a condom, so you are a prostitute.' A USAID report said the 100 Percent Condom Use program was very effective - but was it? Gangsters use condoms to rape women now, so they protect themselves. Is that 100 Percent Condom Use success? The figures are not real. We used to work with figures, but they don't work."

But Pisey acknowledged the work of a recent Violence Against Women and Children in Cambodia (VAWCC) report titled "Sex Workers on the Street - Living with Violence" that identified the high vulnerability of sex workers and disturbing trends in abuse and violence.

The conclusion of the VAWCC report reads, "[Street sex workers] frequently suffer from violence such as gang rape ... are often harassed and illegally arrested by police, and suffer from stigma and discrimination."

Sex workers in Cambodia do not trust the authorities when it comes to assistance over violence or health, said Chan Dina, director of the Cambodian Prostitutes' Union.

"Sex workers are faced with gang rape but do not report it to the local authorities because they know that what they do is illegal," Dina said.

Sex workers said they often face violence from their boyfriends or husbands and the abuse is often fuelled by jealousy or illegal drugs.

The prevalent use of street drugs, increasingly the crystal form of methamphetamine known as "ice," is also a major problem among prostitutes, with about 60 percent of sex workers now using them, according to WAC employees.

Pisey said the plight of Cambodian sex workers is getting worse. USAID - the major donor for NGOs helping sex workers - changed its policy in 2004.

"Now they are focusing on reproductive health and trafficking," said Pisey. "These issues are totally different. Society discriminates against them, and now they are being discriminated against by NGO policy. It's all donor-driven."

By the numbers

Statistics released this year by the NGO Violence Against Women and Children in Cambodia. The information was gathered through months of interviews and workshops with street sex workers in Phnom Penh.
  • 54% named poverty as their reason for entering sex work
  • 38% began working between 15 and 18 years old
  • 42% are divorced
  • 82.6% send money home to support family:
  • 41% have six or more siblings
  • 79% cannot write; 50% cannot read
  • 29.1% have between 6 and 10 clients a day.
  • 95% work seven days a week
  • 70.8% say they have been gang raped
  • 100% of sex workers who say they pay protection money, say they pay it to police

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Cambodia's Killers

By Michael Benge
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 10, 2006

While the radical Islamists held a scimitar to the throat of freedom of expression over cartoons, Hun Sen, Cambodia’s dictator, was throttling those who dared speak out against his misdeeds and Vietnam’s grab of a good portion of Cambodia’s border. Prime Minister Hun Sen is the epitome of the old adage that a tiger never changes his stripes. First by a coup d’état in 1997 in which over 100 members of the Royalist Party democrats were murdered, then through rigged elections, and now through his kangaroo courts, Hun Sen has managed to intimidate and silence all opposition to his fascist regime in Cambodia.

In his most recent coup against democracy, human rights, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, Hun Sen took a page right out of communist Hanoi’s playbook by silencing all opposition to his regime. Hun Sen manipulated Cambodia’s notoriously corrupt and incompetent court system to make it a criminal offense to criticize him or his regime. In February 2005, Hun Sen stripped parliamentary immunity from the leader of the main opposition party (SRP), Sam Rainsy, and two legislators, Cheam Channy and Chea Poch -- both SRP party members. Rainsy and Poch fled the country while Channy remained in Cambodia. In August 2005, Channy was given a seven-year prison sentence. Rainsy was tried in absentia by Hun Sen’s kangaroo court and was given an 18-month jail sentence.

Next, Hun Sen had the publisher of the leading opposition newspaper arrested and the paper shut down for publishing articles critical of Hun Sen. He then had the director of the country’s only independent radio station -- Behive FM -- arrested and charged with defaming him by broadcasting interviews criticizing Hun Sen for allowing Hanoi to gobble up a good portion of Cambodia’s border territory.

Hun Sen then had several leading human rights advocates arrested and detained including Kem Sokha, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and his deputy, the director of the Community Legal Education Center, and the president of the Cambodian teachers’ association. Several others fled Cambodia, including a cousin and aide to Norodom Sihamoni, the new figurehead king. The latter acquiesced to Hun Sen’s border gift to Hanoi that then gave it a façade of legality. Hun Sen has a history of giving land to the Vietnamese.

Hun Sen is a creation of Hanoi’s leaders, who installed him to power after Vietnam’s 1978 invasion of Cambodia in an attempt to colonize that country. After 52,000 soldiers were killed and 200,000 wounded in Cambodia, Hanoi’s army was on the verge of revolt. Hanoi had promised its soldiers that there would no more fighting once the U.S. left Vietnam and that soldiers would be rewarded with farmland. While Hanoi was withdrawing its army, Hun Sen stepped up to the plate for Hanoi and gave farmland in Eastern Cambodia to 100,000 demobilized Vietnamese soldiers and made them instant citizens.

Ironically, Kem Sokha and the other critics of Hun Sen received worse treatment during their incarceration than did notorious military chief for the Chinese-backed Pol Pot faction of the Khmer Rouge, the “Butcher” Ta Mok. The Butcher has a rather comfortable cell with a desk and bed and special meals, while the human rights activists shared crowded, vermin and mosquito infested cells with criminals and murderers. It is widely rumored in Cambodia that the reason that Ta Mok and the other Khmer Rouge leaders enjoy special privileges and have not been brought to trial is that they have threatened to “rat out” Hun Sen for his real role in the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen and another Cambodian communist party leader, Heng Samrin, were the Vietnamese-backed Khmer Rouge military leaders in charge of the Eastern Zone next to Vietnam that too was rife with “killing fields.” Hun Sen was also in charge of enforcing the K-5 Plan during the Vietnamese invasion, also referred to as the “Petite Genocide,” in which ordinary Cambodians were forced into the mine fields along the Thai border, and had the choice of either being blown up attempting to dig up the mines or being shot if they tried escape.

Furthermore, Hun Sen has enlisted several notorious Khmer Rouge military leaders into his present army, and gave amnesty to Pol Pot’s brother-in-law Ieng Sary, known as “Little Brother No. 2,” who was cofounder and co-leader of Pol Pot’s genocidal killing machine. Hun Sen rewarded Ing Sary and his fellow murders a fiefdom rich in gems on the Thai border, an area now filled with lucrative gambling casinos.

The recent arrests were to silence the growing protest over the borderland giveaway, and to intimidate the opposition before the upcoming elections. The border protests were an embarrassment to both Hanoi and Hun Sen. After the U.S. and other donor countries intervened on behalf of Kem Sokha and the other critics who had been arrested, Hun Sen made a sham gesture and said he forgave them and ordered their release. However, soon after, Hun Sen’s kangaroo court said it could not drop the charges and they would still be prosecuted. Hun Sen sent a message to opposition leader Sam Rainsy that he would be allowed to return to Cambodia if Rainsy wrote a letter asking for clemency.

According to many of his followers, Sam Rainsy acquiesced and surrendered his dignity in a pitiful letter to Hun Sen in which Rainsy confessed that all his accusations and criticisms were lies and begged forgiveness. For them, it's a shame that he fell into Hun Sen’s trap and they now equate him to Neville Chamberlin, saying Rainsy has betrayed his country, his followers, and his friends, and has now destroyed the only functioning opposition in Cambodia. Others say it is better for Rainsy to return to keep a political toehold in Cambodia than be in exile in France. Hun Sen also had Parliamentarian Cheam Channy released from jail, and then Hun Sen asked, or rather directed, the figure head King Norodom Sihamoni to pardon both Channy and Rainsy.

As he did with Prince Ranariddth, the leader of the once viable opposition Royal Party, Hun Sen first emasculated the opposition with false charges, prison sentences, and pardons, and then invited them back to the political trough to share in the wealth of rampant corruption. The release of the jailed political critics and Rainsy's pardon are but a sham to soften next month’s donors meeting. By his actions, Hun Sen is just thumbing his nose at the donors, for he knows they will keep doling out the money to fatten his and his cronies’ bank accounts (e.g., the day Rainsy was sentenced, IMF forgave an 82 million dollar debt that Cambodia owed the fund).

Hun Sen owes all this to Hanoi, and he is a master of playing the donors, one against the others. Vietnam keeps a sizeable force of intelligence and other special forces in a compound near Hun Sen’s to keep him in line and in power. Japan is Cambodia’s largest donor, for it wants to be able to continue to access Vietnam’s markets and cheap labor. Also China is the largest investor in Cambodia, and Japan wants to act as a counter balance to China’s influence. If the present investors in Cambodia’s garment mills go belly-up due to political unrest and declining economy, China will step in to bail them out in order to gain Cambodia’s special garment quota to the United States.

Hun Sen has instilled a climate of fear in all opposition individuals and parties in Cambodia. In spite of this, at an independent forum in the commune of Rokar Khnong, one man said, “In the Khmer Rouge time, my father was served soup and they asked him if it tasted good," one man said. "'Tell the truth,' they said. And so he said it did not taste good, and they killed him. Now when we speak the truth, are we going to be jailed? Is Cambodia going back to the Communists again?"

As a way of consolidating his power, if an elected official speaks out against him, Hun Sen just strips them of their parliamentary immunity and replaces them with his cronies. He has replaced them with some of Cambodia's richest men who have built business empires and now represent the ruling Cambodian communist party (CCP) in the upper house of parliament. They include a casino owner, a teenage pal who owns a multi-million dollar palm oil plantation, a drug lord and tobacco tycoon who financed Hun Sen’s coup in 1997, and a businessman responsible for most of the illegal logging in Cambodia.

Hun Sen and his cronies have set up a number of dummy companies through which donor funds are skimmed and sent to offshore bank accounts. The Hun Sen regime is the epitome of a Kleptocracy -- a government characterized by rampant greed and corruption. The only way that democracy will begin to flourish in Cambodia is for the U.S. and other donor countries to set up a tracking system for money laundering as that for Al Queda and for drug lords and begin freezing the bank accounts of Hun Sen and his corrupt cabal.

Michael Benge spent 11 years in Viet Nam, over five years as a Prisoner of War—1968-73. While serving as a civilian Foreign Service Officer, he was captured in South Viet Nam by the North Vietnamese and held in numerous camps in South Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, and North Viet Nam. Mike is a student of South East Asian politics, is very active in advocating for human rights, religious freedom, and a full and accurate accounting for our POW/MIAs, and has written extensively on these subjects.

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Cambodia: Another kind of war

In Cambodia, hundreds, if not thousands of young girls and women are bought and sold, smuggled out of their villages into the larger cities of Cambodia or taken out of the country to places like Thailand and Malaysia — all for the purposes of turning them into sex slaves.

by Karoline Kemp
December 14, 2006

(Editor's note: In September of 2005, Karoline Kemp travelled to Cambodia with Outer Voices, a California-based independent media group, to make a radio documentary program about sex trafficking in Cambodia. The story she told on her return is here. This is a follow-up to her original story.)

Cambodia, a country still recovering from years of strife and a resulting genocide, is now in the throes of another kind of war. Capitalizing on poverty, the breakdown of familial and social structures and a system riddled with corruption, Western pedophiles and sex tourists have long found Cambodia to be an easy place to conduct their business. But now they are taking things a step further. Using the internet and media services, pro-pedophile groups have set up shop in the tiny South East Asian country.

Traveling to Cambodia a year and a half ago with a production team, Outer Voices set out to record the stories of women working to battle the country's sex trafficking problem. We met amazing women – survivors, activists and the staff of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre.

Chanthol Oung, the director of CWCC, had been hesitant to allow us into the inner workings of the organization, nervous because an Australian journalist who had interviewed her had gone on to write that although their work was well-intentioned, it was targetting the men accused with sexual exploitation of Cambodian girls and women in order to gain funding.

At that time, we thought little of her fears around this particular subject; we simply went ahead with our work of hearing the voices of these women.

This past year, however, we were contacted again by Chanthol, who told us that the problem was increasing. These pedophiles were becoming more and more organized, and were gaining media coverage that was not only casting doubt on the women's work, but was undermining it as well.

Graham Cleghorn, a New Zealander now convicted and serving time in a Cambodian prison, is one of those pedophiles. Living on the outskirts of touristy Siem Reap and working as a tour guide, Cleghorn had set up shop in Cambodia. He had hired 10 girls to work in his home, paying each of them a relatively decent wage to work as maids. But they were also expected to massage him, and these massages turned into rapes. These rapes finally came to light, and the girls living with Cleghorn were sent to one of the shelters that CWCC runs.
But Cleghorn, faced with the prospect of a large fine and a prison term, was having none of it. He accused the girls of being in cahoots with the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre in order to target pedophiles to gain media coverage and more funding.

Along with a number of other Western men in similar situations, Cleghorn has made it his business to intimidate, harass and coerce both the general public and the NGO world into the belief that he has been wronged, and that groups like the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre were trying to cash in on the good intentions of donors by turning Western men visiting or living in Cambodia into pedophiles.

Cleghorn is now appealing his conviction on the grounds that he was framed by the CWCC. In New Zealand and Australia, there is much media coverage of his and other such cases, some of which seems to take seriously his accusations against the CWCC.

All this has gone on in a country where hundreds, if not thousands of young girls and women are bought and sold, smuggled out of their villages into the larger cities of Cambodia or taken out of the country to places like Thailand and Malaysia — all for the purposes of turning them into sex slaves.

Statistics are hard to find, but there are a huge number of girls and women who have been trafficked for the purpose of sex work, and it is suggested that over half of these women are HIV positive. Their families have been torn apart, and more of them will never be able to go back to their homes or communities.

Cases like Cleghorn's not only detract from these realities, but undermine the crucial work that groups in Cambodia are doing to return their country to peace.

Karoline Kemp is a journalist and documentary maker.

» Read more!

Rainsy Raises Minister's Khmer Rouge History

Thursday, December 14, 2006
By Kay Kimsong

SRP leader Sam Rainsy scolded Finance Minister Keat Chhon over his position in the Khmer Rouge regime while speaking on the floor of the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Keat Chhon responded that he will answer to the Cambodian people about his past if he is called upon to do so.

Sam Rainsy made his remarks after comparing the recent evictions of villagers from central Phnom Penh with the mass evacuation of the capital by the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. The only difference, he said, was that Pol Pot forced everyone to leave, while today's authorities only target the poor.

"Excellency Keat Chhon, you may remember that when you were Pol Pot's secretary and adviser, the regime forced all people out of the city," Sam Rainsy said during the debate, which focused on the budget for 2007.

Keat Chhon responded that he had nothing to hide.

"If I, Keat Chhon, am called upon to answer to the Cambodian people and nation about my past, I will answer," he told the Assembly.

Keat Chhon accused Sam Rainsy of attempting to provoke him but said his comments did not bother him.

The exchange on the floor of the Assembly was no more than a few minutes of a much larger discussion on the 2007 draft budget.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Keat Chhon said Sam Rainsy's verbal attack on him was personal.

"All the things I did, I will respond to history and the nation," he told reporters.

"When [Sam Rainsy] can't find anything to attack me on, he raises my personal life to attack me. It is wrong. It is not true.... We have the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia], let them judge."

In 1975, Keat Chhon returned with then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk to Phnom Penh from China, where he had retreated after Lon Nol took power in 1970, according to Justin Corfield and Laura Summers' "Historical Dictionary of Cambodia," published in 2003.

He subsequently served as an interpreter and aide to Prime Minister Pol Pot and Deputy Prime Minister Ieng Sary, the book states. In 1977, he was a member of the Democratic Kampuchea delegation to the UN and in 1981 was appointed roving ambassador for the regime, the book states. Keat Chhon left the Khmer Rouge and in 1983 accepted a post with the UN Development Program in Zaire, according to the Historical Dictionary of Cambodia.

Lao Mong Hay, a senior researcher at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, said he hopes that Keat Chhon will provide information to the ECCC.

"I applaud Sam Rainsy's challenge to Keat Chhon. He succeeded in getting Keat Chhon to make that commitment to tell his story in public. It is good for the trial," he said.

» Read more!

Cambodian parliament strips Prince Ranariddh of membership

The National Assembly of Cambodia on Tuesday canceled Prince Norodom Ranariddh's membership, because the seat belongs to the co-ruling Funcinpec Party which he no longer headed since October.

Assembly President Heng Samrin announced that the prince lost his membership following his removal from Funcinpec.

The action was based on a request from Funcinpec and the recent recognition by the Interior Ministry of the prince's new party, he added.

Female Funcinpec member Math Salima was named to fill the party 's seat left by the prince.

Ranariddh was removed as Funcinpec President on Oct. 18, for he stayed overseas too long to neglect party affairs and could not get along well with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On Dec. 16, he then turned to head a minor opposition party, which had no seats in the parliament, to prepare for the upcoming regional and general elections.

The National Assembly is dominated by the major ruling Cambodian People's Party, whose Vice President is Hun Sen and Honorary President Heng Samrin.

Source: Xinhua

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K Speu Officials Take Back Land Concessions

By Yun Samean
The Cambodia Daily

Kompong Speu provincial authorities have confiscated 2,581 hectares of land originally granted to 10 companies under government concessions, officials said Wednesday. An order for confiscation, dated Nov 24 and signed by outgoing Kompong Speu Governor Chap Nhalivuth, calls for land in Phnom Sruoch district to be vacated and was issued to companies including Cambodia Golden Land Development Co Ltd, Korean Agriculture Plantation, and Tony Development Co Ltd, Kang Heang, the current governor of Kompong Speu province, said that the land was being confiscated because the companies were cutting down trees and attempting to transfer the land into their own names. SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said it was good that the land was confiscated, but that the government should now give the land to villagers rather than other private companies. Contact details for the companies named in the land repossession order could not be found Wednesday.

» Read more!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Study: No Evidence Cell Phones Cause Cancer Cancer Rates No Higher in Long-Term Users

Study: No Evidence Cell Phones Cause Cancer
Cancer Rates No Higher in Long-Term Users
Article date: 2006/12/06

Summary: Using cell phones, even over a long period of time, does not appear to raise a person's risk for cancer, Danish researchers report. Their study, which appears in today's Journal of the National Cancer Institute, is the first to include people who had used cell phones for as long as 21 years.

Why it's important: Because cell phones emit a type of low-energy radiation, there is concern that using them over a long period of time could lead to cancer, especially in the brain. The growing popularity of cell phones makes it important to learn if this technology actually does have an effect on cancer.

What's already known: Of 16 previous studies looking at cell phone use and brain tumors, only 2 have found any link, says Michael Thun, MD, MS, the American Cancer Society's vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research. However, the methods used in those 2 studies led many researchers to question the findings. One problem researchers face is that cell phones are relatively new devices, so there aren't a lot of people who have used them for more than about 10 years. It can take longer than that for some cancers to develop, so it's not clear whether using cell phones for more than 10 years might pose a problem.

How this study was done: The Danish researchers tried to address this problem by including people who had begun using cell phones as early as 1982. They looked at cell phone records for more than 420,000 adults in Denmark, and compared those to cancer cases listed in the Danish national cancer registry. They were looking to see if the number of cancer cases among cell phone users was different from what would be expected in the general population. That's a way of finding out whether cell phone users have a higher or lower cancer risk than other people. People who had had cancer before getting a cell phone were excluded from the study.

What was found: The overall number of cancers among cell phone users (14,249) was about the number expected (15,001). Cell phone users did not have a higher risk of brain or central nervous system cancers, salivary gland tumors, eye tumors, or leukemia. This was true even for people who had used cell phones for longer than 10 years. In fact, these long-term users appeared to have a lower risk of brain cancer. The researchers don't have a good explanation for that; they think it might be a chance finding and say more studies are needed.

The bottom line: Thun calls the new findings "reassuring," but not the final answer.

"Because of the widespread use of cell phones, there is an ongoing need to monitor whether risks appear over continuing follow-up," he says. "In the meantime, consumers who are concerned can minimize their exposure by using products with a remote antenna that attaches to their belt or outside the car."

» Read more!

Clinton to help Cambodia kids with AIDS

By KER MUNTHIT, Associated Press WriterMon Dec 4, 12:13 PM ET

Former President Bill Clinton praised Cambodia's efforts in fighting HIV/AIDS and pledged Monday to work with the government to expand treatment for children living with the disease.

"I think that the leadership you have shown ... gives us hope that Cambodia can be a model for the rest of Asia and, perhaps, for the rest of the world," Clinton said after meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen said Clinton's visit, part of a tour of AIDS-related projects and organizations supported by the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative, contributed "great political and psychological value" to Cambodia's efforts to battle AIDS and the discrimination against its victims.

Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries, has an HIV infection rate of 1.9 percent for people aged 15-49, among the highest in Southeast Asia. The rate has been significantly reduced from 3 percent in 1997.

About 20,000 children under the age of 15 live with HIV or AIDS in Cambodia, out of a total 123,000 people who are either infected with the virus or have the full-blown disease.

Clinton signed a memorandum for the foundation to continue supporting and expand pediatric treatment of HIV/AIDS in Cambodia. He also called for more education to raise awareness among young people about how the disease is transmitted and can be prevented.

With assistance from the Clinton Foundation, which established its presence in Cambodia in June 2005, the number of children there receiving treatment for HIV or AIDS has increased from 400 to more than 1,200 within the past year, according to the organization's Web site.

On Sunday, Clinton was made an honorary tribal chief during a visit to Papua New Guinea to promote HIV/AIDS charities in the impoverished South Pacific nation.

Clinton Foundation: http://www.clintonfoundation.org

» Read more!

Cambodia punishes 39 officials for corruption

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia has punished 39 officials, including a provincial police chief, for corruption as part of the kingdom's crackdown on rampant graft, an official said Wednesday.

The officials, mostly customs officers in Cambodia's northwestern Banteay Meanchey province bordering Thailand, took bribes from merchants and allowed them to import right-hand-drive cars, which are illegal here.

Nine high-ranking customs officials and the police chief would be suspended from their posts for six months without salary, said Om Yentieng, chairman of the government's anti-corruption unit.

Since March, Cambodia has banned the import of right-hand-drive vehicles.

The nine customs officials and the police chief recently helped merchants bring some 800 right-hand-drive cars to the kingdom, Om Yentieng said, adding the remaining 29 customs officers netted for corrupt activities would be transferred to other posts.

Impoverished Cambodia is plagued by corruption at almost every level of government, and the misuse of international funds has been a major concern of foreign donors.

Cambodia was ranked 151 out of 163 countries in the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International's 2006 Corruption

Perceptions Index, and was hit by a number of corruption scandals this year, including the discovery of massive graft involving millions of dollars in World Bank projects.

Its parliament has yet to pass draft anti-corruption legislation that has been a demand of the kingdom's donors.

» Read more!

Obesity Boosts Kidney Risk in Type 1 Diabetes

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 6 (HealthDay News) -- For people with type 1 diabetes, obesity is also associated with an increased risk of kidney disease, a U.S. study finds.

"Our results suggest that weight control is important in type 1 diabetes and that overweight patients with type 1 diabetes may need further evaluation and treatment," study lead author Dr. Ian H. de Boer, of the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a prepared statement.

Type 1 diabetes is the inherited form of the disease, in which the body fails to produce enough insulin. It differs from adult-onset type 2 diabetes, which comprises 95 percent of diabetes cases and is often linked to obesity.

In the study, de Boer and colleagues analyzed data on about 1,300 type 1 diabetes patients. These patients were part of a large study that found that intensive insulin therapy -- keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible -- reduced the risk of kidney disease and other diabetes-related complications.

In this new study, the researchers looked at what effect obesity -- specifically waist circumference (central obesity) -- had on kidney disease risk.

Over an average of nearly six years of follow-up, 8.4 percent of the patients developed microalbuminuria -- small amounts of the protein albumin in urine. This is the first sign of diabetic kidney disease. The risk of microalbuminuria was 4.5 percent for patients who received intensive insulin therapy and 12.8 percent for those who received standard insulin treatment.

This study found that the larger a patient's waist measurement, the greater their risk for kidney disease. For each four-inch increase in waist circumference, there was a 34 percent increased risk of microalbuminuria. This held true even after the researchers adjusted for other factors, including intensive insulin therapy.

The findings were published online Wednesday by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, and are expected to be in the January print issue.

"Obesity is a growing problem for people with type 1 diabetes, but little was previously known about whether it affects risk for kidney disease in this group," de Boer said.

"Our research shows that central obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing microalbuminuria, which is not only an important sign of kidney disease but also a marker of increased risk for cardiovascular disease," he said.

More information

The National Kidney Foundation has more about diabetes and kidney disease.

» Read more!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Gov't Buys $5 Million Townhouse in New York City

327 East 58th Street: Amb. Chem Widhya's new residence in New York

By Erik Wasson and Prak Chan Thul

The Cambodian government spent more than $5 million earlier this month to buy a residence in New York City's swanky Manhattan borough for its ambassador to the UN, the New York Times reported.

The townhouse, located at 327 East 58th Street in the elite Upper East Side neighborhood is now the property of the Kingdom of Cambodia, according to the New York City government property records Web site.

The Cambodian government bought the property from New York photographer Ormond Gigli for $5.1 million, the New York Times reported Sunday. On top of this, the government paid an additional $300,000 to another party to sign over a previous contract to buy the building, the newspaper said.

Cambodia's ambassador to the UN Chem Widhya, a CPP official, currently lives in the less exclusive neighborhood of Forest Hills in the New York borough of Queens, according to Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site. E-mailed questions to Cambodia's permanent mission to the UN on Tuesday had not been responded to by Wednesday.

Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn referred questions on the deal to his fellow Secretary of State Ouch Borith, who said the Finance Ministry had the full details of the purchase.

Finance Ministry Secretary of State Ouk Rabun said when it comes to buying property in the US, $5.1 million may not be pricey.

"How do you know it is expensive? In the US market I don't know how much is cheap and how much is expensive. It depends on what you think," he said.

SRP parliamentarian Keo Remy said the 2006 budget approved by the National Assembly did not mention buying real estate in New York.

"Where is the money coming from? Did we borrow the money? Who did we borrow from? ... We the parliamentarians have not been informed about this purchase," he said.

Keo Remy also said that the money could be better spent elsewhere. "We would prefer that the money be spent on education. The teachers' salary is very low," he said.

» Read more!

Top Buddhist Warns Against 'People Power'

By Lor Chandara and John Malloy

Cambodia's top Buddhist patriarch Tep Vong on Wednesday formally lifted his ban on monks voting, but warned them not to engage in "people power" and urged the Buddhist clergy to remain grateful to the ruling CPP.

Presiding over the annual Buddhist Monk Congress at Phnom Penh's Chaktomuk Theater, Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong asked that all monks show thanks to the CPP’s leadership for its role in "saving the country from the Khmer Rouge."

"Don't engage in [political] party solidarity leading to people power," Tep Vong warned. "Unity for people power is not a possibility, as Prime Minister Hun Sen said earlier," he added.

Tep Vong had previously forbidden monks from voting in the 2003 national election, despite their being allowed to do so by law. In May, he signaled that he was going to lift the ban, but it was not until Wednesday that any official decision to end the restriction was announced.

Tep Vong asked monks to thank Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly and Honorary CPP President Heng Samrin for liberating Cambodia.

He said that by showing their gratitude, monks would be able to "live up to the January 7 dharma," referring to the date in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge were driven from Phnom Penh by a Vietnamese-backed army.

In an earlier incarnation, Tep Vong was elected vice president of the 1981 National Assembly of the People's Republic of Kampuchea, a precursor of the current CPP government.

Veering away from politics, Tep Vong also recommended a temporary halt to new pagoda construction in Cambodia, saying that more attention needs to be paid to maintaining and improving existing pagodas.

"We have more than 4,000 pagodas, that is enough," he said.

Several monks in attendance said they were afraid of commenting on Tep Vong's remarks.

But San Savuth, a monk with the royalist—affiliated Dhammayut sect, said he did not approve of Tep Vong-the former head of the rival Mohanikaya sect—calling for a halt to pagoda construction.

"We don't have enough pagodas for the Dhammayut sect," he said, adding that his denomination only has 129 pagodas.

Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, applauded the announcement that monks would be allowed to vote.

"There is no [legal] provision saying that monks cannot vote," she said. "It is good that the leaders did this."

But Kek Galabru expressed some concern over Tep Vong's comments on people power. "People power" typically refers to the popular protest movements in the Philippines that have led to the ouster of two presidents— most famously in the case of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

"It depends on what he understands by people power," she said. "He wants maybe to tell monks not to participate in protests.... International law does not say that monks or priests cannot join in [peaceful] protests."

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay also welcomed the decision to allow monks to vote, but dismissed Tep Vong's comments on people power.

Monks have always played an important rote in opposing authoritarian rule in Cambodia, he said.

"Monks have always been involved in people power," he said. "People power is already there and it doesn't matter how you try to suppress it."

Son Chhay also blasted Tep Vong for requesting praise for the CPP leadership.

"Even the religious institutions can't be relied on to not be affiliated with the ruling party," Son Chhay said. "What [Tep Vong] said was bad for himself and bad for the country."

» Read more!
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