Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cambodia - an April Fool's democracy

Cambodia - an April Fool's democracy

In Cambodia, the eve of the election is quietly known as “the night of the barking dogs”. The “dogs”; politicians and their henchmen; make their rounds, dispensing gifts and threats, winning votes through fear and favour.

This year, the night before Cambodia’s April Fool’s Day elections, the dogs barked in unison for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). As the polling booths shut, so did Cambodia’s chance to rid itself of this ex-Khmer Rouge military dictator. Hun Sen and his faction marched to victory with 98 per cent of the vote. The only other “democracy” recorded receiving such compelling voter support for a single party was Iraq, under Saddam Hussein.

The rise and rise of Hun Sen’s Empire marks the fall of the great democratic experiment in Cambodia. The country remains a democracy in name only; a thin shell hiding the power and corruption of the CPP beneath its surface.

Democracy arrived in Cambodia in a blaze of glory in 1992, when 20,000 international soldiers and civilians, under the auspices of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), descended upon the small Asian country.

The mission was to be an international symbol of the new world order. The Cold War had ended; America's democracy had won over Soviet communism. Cambodia was the lucky recipient of exported democracy - a poultice to assuage the wounds received from years under the bloody Khmer Rouge.

The 1993 election went smoothly and FUNCINPEC (Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indépendant, Neutre, Pacifique, et Coopératif, which translates to "National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia") under Prince Norodom Ranariddh was victorious, receiving over 45 per cent of the vote. The UN, in a celebratory mood packed up and went home, declaring the whole event a great success.

However, under Khmer law, no party could rule with less than a two-thirds majority. Hun Sen’s CPP, which received less than 38 per cent of the vote, threatened a secession of the eastern provinces of Cambodia if Ranariddh did not share the victory. From the days of the Khmer Rouge a faction in the military and many other friends in influential positions in Cambodian society backed Hun Sen. His threats had clout.

FUNCINPEC submitted to a coalition government with the CPP. Cambodia became the only country which could boast not only one, but two prime ministers: First Prime Minister Ranariddh, and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen was later asked to reflect on what UNTAC had brought through their good efforts in Cambodia. He replied simply, “AIDS”. Hun Sen paid no thanks to the UN for their efforts to install democracy in Cambodia.

Since that first election the CPP has tightened its grip on Cambodia. Hun Sen has consolidated his coterie of thugs and villains. Cambodia’s standing army grew and became the largest per capita in the world. Compulsory conscription was introduced for Cambodian men between 18 and 30, and military spending consumed almost half the annual budget. Hun Sen’s faction became an unassailable force inside and outside of Parliament.

With this power, a decade later, Hun Sen set about ironing out the last wrinkles of opposition to his empire.

In 2005 opposition leader Sam Rainsy spoke up in parliament about the CPP’s attempts to assassinate him. The CPP quickly responded by passing a bill retroactively revoking Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity. Hun Sen then issued a $5 million defamation suit against him. Sam Rainsy fled the country, and two of his ministers were imprisoned.

In the months leading up to this election yet another political opponent was forced to flee the country. Prince Ranariddh, the former democratic leader of Cambodia, left the country after charges were brought against him. While married to Princess Marie, Ranariddh had publicly acknowledged a long-term relationship with another woman. With this in mind the CPP pushed legislation through parliament outlawing adultery.

Unofficially, as parliamentarians chatted among themselves, they referred to the law as the “Ranariddh legislation”. Within hours of it being passed by the National Assembly Ranariddh was charged.

The “monogamy law”, in reality, has the potential to see most of the Cambodian male population put behind bars. “Sweet hearts” and prostitutes are a broadly accepted aspect of Khmer male culture. The stooges of the CPP are certainly not exempt from this. All have mistresses. Yet few arrests have taken place since the Prince was charged. The law was merely one more example of how Hun Sen manipulated the law to ensure his own hegemony.

Outside parliament similar CCP plots to manipulate this election process took place. Efforts to monitor and observe the election process were thwarted with the CPP’s devious tricks.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL) acts as an independent election watchdog. With more than 11,000 polling booths across the country; COMFREL is responsible for mobilising thousands of Khmer and international volunteers to visit the polling booths and report any incidents of violence or perversion of the voting procedures. COMFREL’s monitors report back to COMFREL by sending text messages to a COMFREL number which records all reports on a computer database.

Two days before the election, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) - a body made up almost exclusively of CPP party members - made an announcement. Text message services would be shut down up until the hour the polling booths closed. The NEC stated that this was to stop political parties spamming party propaganda in the “tranquility period” before the election. The real victim however was COMFREL and their monitoring activities. COMFREL had no way to instantaneously record the assessments of their thousands of monitors.

The NEC knew COMFREL’s monitoring strategy many months before. With the monitors muted COMFREL could not quickly dispatch additional observers to polling stations where trouble ensued.

Perversions and disruptions at booths went unrecorded and thwarted COMFREL's efforts to report the election.

Frustrating the efforts of COMFREL’s monitoring strategy was unquestionably an advantage to the CPP. The CPP boasts a long history of employing dubious and illegal methods of influencing results at the polling booth.

Booths with traditional swings against the CPP often receive visits from armed thugs with shady connections to the CPP. They cause disturbances outside the booth, scaring away prospective voters. In some provinces, Khmers have been scared out of voting after CPP candidates told them that the CPP had satellites that could see who they voted for. They were told they would be punished if they voted against CPP.

In a country where roughly 30 per cent of the population are illiterate crafty politicians can easily pull the wool over people’s eyes. Fear is by far the most effective electioneering tool. Cambodians know better than most what a government is capable of doing to its own citizens. The Khmer Rouge period hangs like a darkened shroud over the country still with the Khmer Rouge, 30 years later, still unpunished.

Yet despite the corruption, violence and fear Cambodians do want to vote. Sixty-five per cent of those registered to vote made the long trek to their provinces to make their contribution to democracy. Compared to long-established democracies of the UK and America, this is significantly high.

Each generation of Cambodians chip away at illiteracy levels and grow more politically conscious. Yet at the same time, Hun Sen's power base grows in strength. In a country with absolutely no social welfare system; corruption is a means of survival. It is entrenched at every level. While corruption remains, so will the CPP. While a vote can be still be purchased for roughly 25 cents (US) no change can be expected in Cambodia.

In a country that has known no past other than the reign of emperors, the weighty burden of colonialism and the barbarism of a murderous communist force, perhaps the end result of the democratic experiment is not so surprising. The culture of power and violence entrenched long ago did not dissipate overnight in one expensive UN operation. They merely adapted to a different system. It has happened many times before.

Cambodia bodes ill for the similar experiments of nation building in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that polling booths, monitors and peacekeepers are all very well but cannot alone displace embedded hierarchy, powerbrokers and mobsters. These result from far more systemic problems of poverty and instability.

Cultural norms of hierarchy, religion and tradition also contribute to the perpetuation of such power structures. It’s time we abandoned the concept of democracy as a universal band-aid solution, applicable to any country and situation. The reality is far more complex and so should be the response.

First published in The Diplomat on May 28, 2007.


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Ominous Comrade Sen, The Real Walking Time Bomb

By Kok Sap - US May 24, 2007
In modern management practice, one of the rules, is people who ignore the past are destined to repeat it. Well this seems going on in Phnom Penh presently. All the times, Comrade Sen seems infuriated with the straight shooter reporter especially folks from RFA. This is not normal for a public figure and servant to lash out a reporter who tried to seek truth for the voiceless voters.
Undoubtedly, Comrade Sen is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder gravely. As a head of a government and public servant, the appearance of instability has repeated quite often. This is serious sign of imbalanced mind that needed chemotherapy and anger management counseling. At moment of his uncontrolled outburst, he thought he was the altruistic son of the gun with entitlement to scold anyone in public. The confusion in degradation as affection toward Keo Nimol was one of the outburst psychotic episodes. At first the majority thought Keo Nimol was a female reporter because the country knows how Comrade Sen is extremely sexist and resentful toward female supremacy. Nevertheless, it did not weigh out Comrade Sen public disorderly conduct any less, after fact, that the reporter was a male.
The on going ethical moral question here is it acceptable for the powerful to violate other rights? As a head of a government and public servant, the appearance of instability has repeated quite often. If this continues, he will endanger anyone in his ways. Soon Idi Amin ghost will consume this very psychotic mind and the whole nation will be subjected to his evil. Many critics kept saying time bomb for Cambodia peace is land grabbing, corruption, and social injustice. Those are remotely but Comrade Sen is the walking time bomb for all.
Another say in management is a person unaware of mistakes made by others is likely to repeat them. This is other aspect of this mental pendulum; Hun Sen sees no replacement and equal in power. If all people in government and voters continue to accept the violent behaviors, soon the regrets will likely reoccur.
Imagine it will not be even a flinch for him to repeat what he has always done in 1985, 1993, 1997, 2004,and 2005. Of course in 2006, we have seen event that commandeered by Comrade Sen to set up goat blame game for the sacrificial General Heng Pov, once his hand picked favorite co conspirator. This was a great psychological warfare to neutralize any rivalry from within CPP. Obviously Comerade Sen seems experiencing paranoia once his ominous leader Pol Pot had during 1975-1978 regime.
In practice the management advises, the wise person studies the past to avoid management pitfalls and benefit from its achievements. This clearly applies to all partisans, public servants, religious personalities, and obviously a country. The resolution rests in all, the opposition folks, the institutions, the legislatives, and importantly the owners of vote. Therefore it appears the bottom line to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Now is it to do or not to do for the sake of no more mistakes in one person for the nation goodness?
In conclusion, Cambodia friends like EU, US, China, UK, and Japan may need to gauge out this early symptoms of mental health disorder in a person who has wielded tremendous power over millions. The patterns of same dangerous behavior happened in 1970 when Sihanouk then was engulfed with hatred and mental imbalance to declare to exterminate any one who had lived under Khmer Republic Regime or in the country. The record showed that how's happened to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Dung, Idi Amin, Sihanouk, and then Saloth Sar, the Comrade Prime Minister Hun Sen mentor.


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Cambodia and Women Rights

By Kok Sap
Author and Philosopher Mrs. Ayn Rand of USSR époque rationalized her objectivism theory based on women view," rational being as one who wants to live, and to live with a minimum of pain and suffering. The right goals or actions, therefore, are the ones that ensure survival in real world." Because of life under DK then PRK was no different in USSR regime, we can understand why Cambodia women survivors did what they do to live.
Cambodia recent past and present, the women tears and blood that holds the very government in place. For centuries through kings' eyes, women were objects and properties for the victors. The systems impeded women rights in protection, fundamental education and representation. Worst from 1975 until present women are representing large part in manual workforce to sustain the country.
In term of democracy, Cambodia women are more able than bunches in current government. But because of survival must exist first, instead Cambodia women opted to be minority. They shun own rights to be respected in politic. Consequently chauvinism in men took it for granted. Thus women still have to fight for own equality and protection under the current deceitful systemic politic. Often times, Cambodia women were left to bear the brunt alone.
Almost in every man of intelligence claimed that present Cambodia was originated from maternalistic heritage since before Christian era. Post French subjugate rule, Cambodia had a female ruler namely Sisowath Kossamak from April 1960 to March 1970. Sadly she might have been the Queen but a lifeless effigy through her own son eyes. She was disrespected by her own son who was more chauvinist than anyone else. Had he not belittled but chastised her intervention in nation political crises.
Presently there are at least 50 political parties registered with Ministry of Interior. But NO women rights party. Thus all use women as political decorum, especially, the CPP was cunningly using flying woman as its logo. Also, SRP the so called opposition does no different as it currently uses its President wife who is the product of foreign cultures and absolute amoral feudalism to lure the confused ones. In all due respect, she has always lived in Ivory tower with silver spoon feeding. So in practice besides being a female and a rose in the decorative vase, she has nothing to really offer to the earthly women struggle and survival.
Philosopher Ayn Rand also said, "in the restrictive society personal freedom was paramount." In that case, Cambodia is a suppressive and chauvinist society. Women existence is merely a materialistic pleasure and properties. Therefore women need to set example and discontinue trusting male demagoguery. They have every right to represent their own interests and themselves. They shall no longer behave as let live but to live fully. If anything will happen differently in 2008 election, may be because of women will to demonstrate strength in personal freedom demands. May be it is time for those men stepping aside to assist and honor their maternalistic heritage to reassume long held tradition for a better change.


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

CPJ troubled by Cambodian prime minister’s remarks to RFA reporter

New York, May 23, 2007 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threatening comments to a Radio Free Asia reporter on Thursday.

Um Sarin, a radio reporter with Radio Free Asia (RFA), told CPJ that Hun Sen referred to him as “insolent” and “rude” after being queried outside the National Assembly compound about a recent government reshuffle. The premier singled out RFA for what he deemed as consistently “insolent” reporting.

I was very afraid because his bodyguards started to circle around me,” Um Sarin told CPJ in a telephone interview. “He pointed his finger in my face and said that in the future I should be afraid to ask those sorts of questions,” he added. The premier’s comments against Um Sarin were later broadcast on several state-affiliated television and radio stations, drawing attention to the confrontation. In news reports, Hun Sen has not commented on the matter.

“In Cambodia’s current climate, the prime minister’s comments are menacing,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge the prime minister to clarify his comments and make clear that he did not intend to threaten reporter Um Sarin.”

On May 20, Um Sarin said, he fled to neighboring Thailand due to concerns for his personal safety. Um Sarin’s case marks the latest incident in a troubling trend of government harassment of RFA reporters.

According to a senior RFA editor, reporter Sok Ratha was prevented by Hun Sen’s bodyguards from reporting on a new road project in the remote Ratanakiri province in April. The same reporter had earlier been called to a meeting with the provincial governor, where he was chastised for reporting on alleged illegal logging in the area, according to the RFA editor. Hun Sen’s government has consistently denied that it condones illegal logging despite several independent investigative reports that indicate otherwise.

In December 2006, the editor said, RFA reporter Lem Pich Pisey was prevented by Hun Sen’s bodyguards from covering the opening of a new building in Battambang province last December. The area is a former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, of which Hun Sen’s government has reached a controversial political accommodation.

And in October 2005, RFA reporter Ath Bunny fled Cambodia for Thailand due to concerns he might be arrested for reports about a controversial border demarcation treaty that Hun Sen had made with Vietnam. Hun Sen’s government had earlier jailed Radio Beehive FM 105 journalist Mam Sonando over critical radio reports he had made about the treaty.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Commentary: Cambodia's war against the powerful brings terror to the powerless

HONG KONG, May. 16

Land-grabbing has been one of the most serious issues facing Cambodia since it abandoned communist collectivization at the end of the 1980s to embrace a market economy based on private property. In recent years, this problem has become worse as land conflicts have dramatically increased.

A non-governmental organization (NGO) listed 1,551 cases between 1991 and 2004, affecting nearly 160,300 families or almost 7 percent of the population. Another NGO alone received 335 cases in 2005 and 450 in 2006 in which it dispensed legal assistance to victims.

Land-grabbing has affected urban dwellers, rural folks and ethnic minorities alike with the land primarily being grabbed by the powerful and the rich backed by powerful officials. Using their high position and influence, land-grabbers can secure eviction orders and the enforcement of these orders from the state machinery without going through due process of law and without paying fair and just compensation to evictees.

For instance, in 2006, a powerful company got the Ministry of Interior to force 168 families living in Phnom Penh, whose land the government conceded to that company, to accept average compensation of less than US$20 per square meter of land, while the estimated market price was US$200, and then forcibly evict them. Facing such injustices, evictees had no choice but to resist their eviction to demand fair and just compensation. Force and intimidation were then used against them as the police and military police, armed with assault rifles, electric batons and riot shields, were sent to break up the resistance, demolish evictees' dwellings and force occupants to vacate their land.

Frequent forced evictions have not led to the end of land-grabbing, and protests against them and the issue itself have only become worse year after year, to such a degree that Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly warned it could spark a "peasant revolution." In March 2007, Hun Sen secured full support from his party, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), to declare a "war against land-grabbers," whom he identified as "CPP officials" and "people in power." His remarks were a positive development as the prime minister, known as the "strongman" of Cambodia with all power centralized in his hands, personally addressed the issue.

Critics have said, however, that this high-profile "war," staged just weeks before the commune election on April 1, was simply campaign rhetoric. Perhaps it is too soon to give credence to these critics, but this "war" has not earned Hun Sen many victories as yet, for it has only subdued an army major, an army general and a tycoon for land-grabbing. Furthermore, it has provided no security to victims of some 2,000 land-grabbing cases lodged with the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes.

Moreover, on April 20, Say Hak, the governor of Sihanoukville, a seaport on the Gulf of Thailand, turned this "war" into terror for 107 families by sending armed police and security personnel to forcibly evict them from their 17 hectares of land for the benefit of Sen. Sy Kong Triv, a CPP tycoon. That day Say Hak, together with his deputy, the town prosecutor, the police commissioner and military police commander, led about 100 police and military police officers armed with AK47 assault rifles, electric batons and tear gas to search for illegal weapons in the homes of these families. Although they had a warrant, this search for weapons was merely a legal cloak to cover up the eviction of the families as the security forces failed to find any weapon and instead took their land.

The families resisted and clashes ensued. The security forces fired shots in the air and into the ground and charged the villagers, using their rifle butts, electric batons and water canons to disperse them. Thirteen men among the villagers were seriously beaten, and many women were assaulted. A 75-year-old man in the village was so severely beaten and electrocuted that he required hospital treatment. Three members of the security forces were also injured.

The security forces arrested 13 villagers for "battery with intent" and "wrongful damage to property." These villagers are now detained in the prison in Sihanoukville. The police are also looking for other villagers, and 30 to 40 of them have gone into hiding for fear of being arrested.

Meanwhile, Say Hak has filed a criminal lawsuit against Chhim Savuth, a human rights investigator, for "inciting" the villagers to form a "breakaway zone independent of government rule." Chhim Savuth has thus also gone into hiding as well.

Say Hak's terror against these families and his pursuit of some of their members and a human rights activist are his way to help people in power grab land from powerless people. He once confided that "it is not difficult to settle land disputes: it is a matter of eliminating one or two gang leaders, and these conflicts will be over." He does not care about the plight of these 107 families who found that their homes, crops and other belongings, including motorbikes, bicycles, generators, TVs, VCRs, DVDs, clothes, kitchen utensils and domestic animals, were destroyed by fire, tractors and bulldozers during the eviction. These families have been made destitute and are now camping under plastic shelters or trees under monsoon rains and the tropical hot sun on the roadsides along Highway 4 leading to Phnom Penh. They are surviving on relief handouts from humanitarian organizations.

Say Hak has not stopped with this eviction though. His connivance with land-grabbers continued on May 11 when he issued another order of eviction to 18 families and gave them 20 days to vacate their land. Knowing his way of ending land disputes, these families face the same terror as those previous 107 families if they defy his order. Hun Sen needs to stop Say Hak's abuses before other governors turn his "war against land-grabbers" into terror against powerless people in other towns and provinces if his "war" is to have any meaning.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mom’s approach styles designer’s success

Tue, May. 15, 2007
Mom’s approach styles designer’s success

Lim wants to keep clothes affordable

By Booth Moore
Los Angeles Times

It’s the dress of the spring season: Look No. 2 from Phillip Lim’s runway show. White dresses were everywhere during the collections last September. But the dress Lim co-designed with Koi Suwannagate – a simple T-shirt style with clusters of hand-sculpted rosettes, a bargain at $510 – spawned waiting lists and secured Lim’s status as New York’s newest fashion star.

After just two years in business, Lim’s women’s, men’s and accessories collections are sold in 250 stores worldwide, including, come July, his own boutique in SoHo. He’s been nominated for an award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, has a slew of celebrity fans (Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, Amanda Peet), and Vogue won’t stop calling.

His romantic style has been influenced by everything from the perennial fashion film “Grey Gardens,” about the decaying socialite Edith Bouvier Beale, to the elegance of a rosebud, but always with the kind of dressmaker details more typically associated with high-fashion designers such as Alber Elbaz for Lanvin.

So it might be surprising to hear that Lim actually grew up in Orange County, Calif. – not the over-privileged “OC,” but the working-class town of Westminster, where his family moved from Cambodia and where his mother Hannah still lives.

Lim lives and works in New York now, but visits his mother often, most recently last month when we caught up with them. His old bedroom has been converted into a storage space, but from the stack of fashion magazines spilled on the floor next to the couch, you can tell he still bunks there.

Lim has never invited his mom – or any of his family – to his runway shows. Or told them how much his clothes cost. (His line falls in the contemporary category, so most pieces are less than $1,000.) His mother only recently learned that his work has been featured in magazines when a French relative phoned her after seeing his name in Jalouse.

Like so many immigrant children who don’t go into professional fields, Lim thinks he’s disappointed his parents, for whom going into fashion was on par with becoming a small-time seamstress. He’s not estranged from his mom, but they have a mutual understanding. He lives his life in New York, she sends him her famous garlic sauce, and they rarely, if ever, discuss work. But it could be the intersection of her make-do mentality and his more sophisticated, city-wise aesthetic that has made his collection such a hit.

“Vogue magazine doesn’t mean anything to her,” Lim says. “She doesn’t know who Anna Wintour is or what Barneys is. She doesn’t know that it’s all about the little white dress.”

The truth is, Asian designers are making a mark on fashion the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1980s, when Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo first landed in Paris from Japan. Except that this second wave is Asian-American. Derek Lam, the new creative director for Italian luxury goods brand Tods, was born in Hong Kong and raised in San Francisco, where he first learned about clothing at his grandparents’ bridal wear factory. Doo Ri Chung, who emigrated from South Korea when she was 4 and started designing out of her parents’ dry-cleaning shop, won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in November and has designed a special collection of white shirts in Gap stores nationwide now. Thakoon Panichgul, of Thai descent, Peter Som, of Chinese descent, and Richard Chai, of Korean descent, also are turning out consistently strong collections on New York runways.

Still, working in fashion, or more specifically sewing clothes, was not the life Hannah wanted for her son.

More than 30 years later, she tears up talking about the summer of 1975 when she and her late husband Pary escaped from Cambodia in the middle of the night, huddled in a boat with their six children who were all under the age of 13. The Lims are Chinese, but their ancestors migrated to Cambodia after Japan invaded. When Pol Pot took over, “I was afraid he was going to draft my boys as children soldiers,” Hannah says, as her daughter Lisa translates.

They escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand, where a Christian organization sponsored their move to San Diego. Pary worked odd jobs while Hannah sewed simple garments at home for 5 to 10 cents apiece.

“To her, clothing was to protect and cover the body and put food on the table,” Phillip Lim says. “It was never about a fantasy where you can get dolled up and change your personality. It wasn’t a luxury; it was a necessity.”

A few years later, the family moved to Westminster, and Hannah began working in a garment factory.

“She would work 10-hour days, cook dinner for us, then go to the sewing machine she saved up money to buy and sew until she fell asleep on the machine,” Lim remembers. “Looking at my work now with the tedious hand stitching, I remember it from the clothes she was making. Somehow it comes through, the respect for the people who put it together.”

Mom and dad always dressed conservatively. Even today, Hannah wears a green twin set and black slacks from Target, along with Tiffany pearls, a birthday gift from Lim.

Not that Lim’s collections are that wild. The trapeze dresses with lattice collars, tiered organza blouses and high-waist trousers from the all-white spring collection were demure with a twist, as were the shadow tartan skirts and bow-front blouses he showed for fall. You could almost see his mom wearing them, if it wasn’t for the prices.

“To her, why would you pay $800 for a suit if you can make it for less?” Lim says. “That’s money you could send back to your relatives, and they could live for a year.”

The family goal was for every child to go to college and, eventually, become a doctor or a lawyer.

“I was afraid of blood – that was my excuse to go into business,” Lim says. It didn’t take. Not long after arriving at California State University, Long Beach, he switched majors to study fashion merchandising.

“My heart broke,” Hannah, 67, says. “I couldn’t believe we sent him to school to do that.”

When Phillip graduated in 1997, he didn’t invite his parents to the ceremony. “I had a degree, but it wasn’t in what they wanted.”

He moved to Los Angeles to be a design assistant for Katyone Adeli. “I just told them I was working. I never told them where or on what because if it hadn’t worked out, they would have said ‘I told you so.’ ”

He launched the clothing label Development with a few friends and received six figures’ worth of orders the first season.

When Lim left in 2004, he was unemployed for only a few hours before his current business partner, Wen Zhou, bought him a plane ticket to New York. “I told my mom I was moving on Tuesday and left on Thursday.”

They named the business 3.1 because they were both 31 years old at the time. And now it’s a $30 million company.

In the realm of runway fashion, his clothes are not expensive. And he plans to keep it that way, even as his profile rises.

“Price is important to me,” he says. “It’s all about where I come from. I’m in a privileged profession now, but I hate the feeling of being spoiled. They are just clothes. They should make you feel good and look good, and I hope you can still pay your bills after you buy them.”

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Serving his clients and his country, he creates jobs while boosting Cambodian tourism

Vacation Visionaries.

Sokoun Chanpreda

Serving his clients and his country, he creates jobs while boosting Cambodian tourism


Cambodia has some of the world's most beautiful temples, but they are surrounded by dusty villages mired in extreme poverty. For the country's tourism trade, that would seem like a drawback. For entrepreneur Sokoun Chanpreda, it looked more like an opportunity-- a chance to put an industry with jobs to fill together with people who need the work.

At the Shinta Mani, an 18-room boutique hotel Sokoun founded near Angkor Wat, that's just what's going on. The hotel's hospitality institute opens its doors to poor students and gives them a free nine-month education in high-level restaurant and hotel work. More than 60 students have completed the program since it started in 2004, and all have managed to find jobs. After scraping by on as little as $5 a month, they can earn $80 to $120 upon graduation.

Philanthropy is the animating idea of the hotel, but it still needs to generate a profit to stay in operation. Sokoun, 42, who is also a co-founder of Bed Supperclub, a sleek Bangkok nightspot, has that worked out, mostly by making the charitable mission part of the hotel's allure. Visitors who come to the Shinta Mani help sponsor students, and have even donated $150,000 over the past two years to provide aid such as wells, livestock and sewing machines for 340 families in the area. "We create a unique differentiation between our hotel and the hotel across the street," says William D. Black, managing director of Bed Management, the Shinta Mani's parent company.

Sokoun's past is part of the reason he's driven to both do well and do good. He fled Cambodia with his family in 1970 just as a 20-year civil war broke out, and he returned for the first time in the early 1990s. "If my family had not left, I would be dead," he says. Instead, he can give back through the Shinta Mani. The hotel's guests, meanwhile, can go home thinking not just about Cambodia's poverty but also about their contribution to ending it.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cambodia's Mobile Market is Growing at an Annual Rate of Around 35%

Cambodia's Mobile Market is Growing at an Annual Rate of Around 35%
Tuesday May 8, 1:00 pm ET

DUBLIN, Ireland--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c56097) has announced the addition of 2007 Asia - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to their offering.

This Annual Publication: Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband in Asia - Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam profiles three countries which once made up the French colonial entity known as Indochina. These neighbouring countries - Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam - are still in relatively early stages of their telecommunications development with expanding national infrastructure and growing subscriber bases across all market segments.

Continuing to shun fixed-line services, Cambodia's healthy mobile market has passed the 1.5 million subscriber milestone and was continuing to grow at an annual rate of around 35% coming into 2007. Fixed-line services were languishing at around 42,000, with no sign of a revival in interest in this segment of the market. Surprisingly, given the apparent interest in communications, Internet penetration has remained particularly low, with the services on offer being notably expensive in comparison to other countries in the region. As the country's efforts are directed towards strengthening its telecommunications infrastructure, Cambodia must continue to address its political problems and build its economy. Now that the country has entered a period of relative political stability, an increased effort is required to put the necessary administrative institutions and regulations in place. The telecom sector remains in need of serious regulatory reform. The good news is that foreign investor confidence appears to have returned and there are many positive signs that the economy is strengthening in a sustained manner.

After years of economic struggle, Laos has finally been reporting positive news on this front. With a number of substantial hydro-electric and mining projects now a reality, the country is at last moving forward in a confident fashion. Attention is now turning to building its national infrastructure, including telecommunications. Laos still only had a fixed line teledensity of less than two telephones per 100 people by early 2007. More foreign investment is needed to boost the telecoms sector and, most importantly, given that it is a relatively small market; the government must be judicious in deciding and licensing how this investment happens. The Lao Telecom joint venture formed by the government with the Thai company, Shinawatra, in 1996 was a wasted opportunity. Lao Telecom allowed the five year period of market exclusivity to pass without any serious attention to infrastructure building. When the market was opened up to competition in 2002, foreign capital finally started to flow into the sector, although not as much as the government would have liked. The mobile phone market took off in early 2003, with the number of subscribers increasing sevenfold in just 2 years. The Lao telecom sector still has many issues to address. Despite the recent rapid opening up of the market, the regulatory progress continues to lag behind development and has the potential to derail the progress already made if reform is not speeded up.

After a period in which foreign investors appeared to be avoiding Vietnam's telecom sector, the country has become the target for a fresh new round of investor interest. This follows a period in which the government seemed content to 'go it alone'. During this time, the introduction of a limited level of competition into the telecoms market, combined with a generally improved economic climate, saw some healthy growth in the sector. More recently the move to allow an increase level of 'equalisation' (the Vietnamese government's word for 'privatisation') has sent a clear message to investors that the rules are changing in a positive way. The investment mood has been further boosted with Vietnam finally winning accession to the World Trade Organization, a step that was formally confirmed in early 2007. This adds to the already positive climate for the telecom sector expansion. As well as strong growth in its mobile sector, there has been equally strong - and some might say, surprising - growth in the country's fixed line subscriber base. Fixed-line services have been continuing to expand at an annual rate of 100%; fixed teledensity has passed 32%. At the same time, the government's reticence about the Internet has not stopped this segment of the market gaining a strong foothold. Internet user penetration was running at a healthy 18% in early 2007. Increased foreign investment remains the key to overall expansion. It is still not totally clear what form the government's involvement in the telecom sector will take.

Key highlights:

-Vietnam's mobile market had passed the 16 million subscriber mark coming into 2007. The annual growth rate in this market segment was running at around 85% and looked set to continue.

-The 2006 year saw a remarkable surge in Vietnam's broadband Internet market with subscriber growth running at an annual rate of almost 200%. Interest in broadband services was finally picking up; but broadband penetration remains low (2% of households) we can expect continuing strong growth in this market segment.

-Vietnam received a boost to its economy generally and the telecom sector in particular with its accession to the WTO in early 2007.

-In Cambodia, mobile services continue to dominate the local market; in what is still a relatively poor country, (GDP per capita of US$430 in 2006), more than 1.5 million people subscribe to a mobile service. The market is continuing to expand at around 40% per annum.

-According to ministry figures, mobile subscribers in Laos passed the one million mark in December 2006. Recent growth in mobile has been rapid in this country of only 6 million people and the market looked set to continue to expand at an annual rate of about 40% in 2007/08.

-All three countries are making some progress with regulatory change and structural reform within their respective telecom sectors. To the outside observer, however, progress is often painfully slow. This can cause serious concern among those companies wishing to invest.

Mobile penetration and annual growth - 2007

Country Penetration Annual growth

-Cambodia 15% 37%

-Laos 21% 40%

-Vietnam 30% 60%

Topics Covered


1.1 Key statistics

1.2 Telecommunications market

1.3 Regulatory environment

1.4 Telecommunications infrastructure

1.5 Internet market

1.6 Mobile communications

1.7 Broadcasting market


2.1 Key statistics

2.2 Telecommunications market

2.3 Regulatory environment

2.4 Fixed network operators in Laos

2.5 Telecommunications infrastructure

2.6 Internet

2.7 Mobile communications

2.8 Broadcasting market


3.1 Key statistics

3.2 Telecommunications market

3.3 Regulatory environment

3.4 Telecommunications infrastructure

3.5 Fixed network operators in Vietnam

3.6 Internet market

3.7 Broadband market

3.8 Content and e-services

3.9 Mobile communications

3.10 Broadcasting

3.11 Forecasting


Tables and Exhibits

For more information visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c56097

Research and Markets
Laura Wood
Senior Manager
Fax: +353 1 4100 980

Source: Research and Markets Ltd.

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In Cambodia, a Clash Over History of the Khmer Rouge

In Cambodia, a Clash Over History of the Khmer Rouge

By Erika Kinetz
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 8, 2007; A14


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, May 7 -- In a country where half the students who enter grammar school never finish, Cheak Socheata, 18, is among the most privileged of her generation: She made it to college.

But even Cheak, a first-year medical student at Phnom Penh's University of Health Sciences, has learned next to nothing in school about the Khmer Rouge, who in a little less than four years in power executed, tortured and starved to death an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians, about a quarter of the population.

"I just heard from my parents that there was mass killing," Cheak said. "It's hard to believe." Her high school history teacher told her the basics -- the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 -- and advised her to read about the rest on her own, she recalled.

Nearly three decades after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, a battle over history is underway in Cambodia. On one side are forces eager to reckon with the past, both in school and at a special court set up to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Many teachers, students and activist groups say more should be taught about the Khmer Rouge years, which is virtually absent from school curriculums now.

Blunting these demands is a government whose top leaders were once associated with the now-defunct communist movement and who seem loath to cede control over such a politically sensitive chapter of Cambodian history.

"Suppose that ever since 1945, Germany had been ruled by former Nazis," said Philip Short, author of "Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare," a biography of the Khmer Rouge leader published in 2004. "Would the history of the Nazi regime be taught honestly in Germany today? This is now Cambodia's problem."

A new high school textbook about the era, the first written by a Cambodian, was recently published by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent institute in Phnom Penh that specializes in Khmer Rouge history. In "A History of Democratic Kampuchea," author Khamboly Dy, 26, spells out in 11 detailed chapters the rise, reign and fall of the Khmer Rouge, who called themselves the Communist Party of Kampuchea and the country, Democratic Kampuchea.

A Cambodian government review panel deemed the book unsuitable for use in the regular curriculum. Instead, the panel said the book could be used as supplementary reference material and as a basis for the Ministry of Education to write its own textbook.

"It's a start. The door is open," said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center, which has been pushing to get a textbook into classrooms since 1999.

Short said Khamboly's text is hard to fault on substantive historical grounds. "It deserves to be not merely an approved textbook for Cambodian schools but a compulsory text, which all Cambodian schoolchildren should be required to study," he said.

Its sidelining reflects the failure of the country's current leaders to move beyond their Khmer Rouge past, he said. Prime Minister Hun Sen, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim were all middle-ranking Khmer Rouge officials, he said.

The three men left Cambodia for Vietnam in the late 1970s and returned with Vietnamese army forces that overthrew Pol Pot in 1979. Today, their political legitimacy rests in part on their credentials as men who helped free Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge tyranny.

Heng Samrin said it was unfair to implicate him and other top officials of the ruling Cambodian People's Party in the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.

In an interview with a Cambodian journalist, he maintained that the term "Khmer Rouge" refers only to people who joined the National United Front of Kampuchea, which in the first half of the 1970s fought the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government but later betrayed the revolution and killed innocent people.

He and his colleagues only fought to liberate Cambodia from Lon Nol and his imperialist henchmen, he said. "We were not involved in the Khmer Rouge regime," he said, adding that he had been only a "simple soldier."

Khamboly said that picking his way through politically charged points was the most difficult aspect of writing the book, which was printed with $10,000 from the Soros Foundation's Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy. By citing sources, focusing on survivor stories and seeking neutral language, Khamboly said, he hoped to avoid political tussles.

It wasn't enough. The committee that reviewed the text criticized it for giving too much attention to the years after 1979, when Cambodian factions fought a long civil war, and for tracing the roots of the Khmer Rouge back to the struggle against French colonization and to Ho Chi Minh's Indochinese Communist Party.

Committee members also said naming individuals associated with the Khmer Rouge government was "unnecessary" and a threat to their safety.

History "should be kept for at least 60 years before starting to discuss it," said committee member Sorn Samnang, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, a graduate school, according to the minutes of a Dec. 14 meeting of the review panel.

There is a long-standing political debate in Cambodia over whether Vietnam liberated or invaded the country when it ousted the Khmer Rouge.

Khamboly's book uses neither term, saying only that Vietnamese forces "fought their way into Cambodia."

"We use facts," Khamboly said. "Whether they invaded or liberated the country is an interpretation."

But in Cambodia, as in other post-conflict states, there are few facts that belong to everybody. In a Sept. 19 letter to Hun Sen, the premier, his education adviser, Sean Borat, generally praised the book but took issue with Khamboly's failure to characterize the Vietnamese action as a liberation.

He also objected to the book's characterization of Cambodians who returned with the Vietnamese in 1979 as "Khmer Rouge defectors." That phrase, Sean Borat wrote, must be deleted because "the Cambodian People's Party did not originate from Khmer Rouge soldiers but from a massive movement that emerged to oppose the brutal regime led by Pol Pot."

The offending phrase was removed from the final version of the book.

Young Cambodians haven't been formally taught much about the Khmer Rouge in school since propaganda texts of the 1980s, when Cambodia was ruled by the communist government that the Vietnamese installed. Those books depicted the Khmer Rouge with such graphic ferocity that some children grew up thinking they were actual monsters.

These books were taken out of use in 1991, when U.N.-brokered peace talks ended more than a decade of civil war and led to elections.

In 2002, a 12th-grade history textbook touching on the Pol Pot years was introduced but quickly recalled after controversy arose over the book's omission of the 1993 electoral victory of the royalist Funcinpec party. A new version of the text has yet to appear. Ministry of Education officials say they plan to publish a new book in 2009; they blame the delay on lack of funds.

In the meantime, Cambodia's youth are "a lost generation," said Chea Vannath, former president of the Center for Social Development, a local rights group. In the absence of a shared national story about the Khmer Rouge, a thousand conversations, fractured by politics, rumor, myth and the varieties of human experience are being passed down to a sometimes skeptical younger generation.

"When a kid doesn't eat all the rice on the plate, his mother tells him, 'If you were in the Pol Pot regime, you would die because you don't have enough food,' " said Nou Va, 27, a program officer at the Khmer Institute for Democracy, a nonprofit group that recently produced a documentary film about the generation gap. "The kid says, 'Oh, she's just saying that to blame us. I don't believe it.' "

The battle for history is also being waged at a former military headquarters on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where a special tribunal set up by the United Nations and the Cambodian government is struggling to bring to justice those leaders of the Khmer Rouge who survive. (Pol Pot died in 1998.)

Efforts to establish the court go back a decade. Despite recent signs of progress toward convening trials, many observers have concluded that the Cambodian government is not ready for a truly independent inquiry into this chapter of the nation's past.

"Were Hun Sen and his colleagues to permit an honest appraisal of the past, it would be the best proof that they have finally broken with that past and moved out from under the shadow of their Khmer Rouge origins," Short said. "Unfortunately, all the signs continue to point in the opposite direction."

Cheak, the medical student, has a more immediate concern. It's about Khamboly's new book. "Where," she asked, "can I get a copy?"

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Terrorism: US State Dept congratulates Phnom Penh, Chhun Yasith’s trial planned for July

By Leang Delux
Cambodge Soir

Unofficial translation from French by Tola Ek

In its annual report on terrorism, the US State Department presents Cambodia as a serious ally in the fight against this scourge. Furthermore, Hok Lundy, on his return from the US, announced that the trial of Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) chief would be held in July.

While the MPs adopted on Monday the law against money laundering and terrorism – an adoption demanded long ago by aid donor countries – Cambodia is the topic of a rather favorable evaluation presented in the latest annual report on terrorism by the US State Department. The document notes weaknesses in the Cambodian government capacity to investigate on potential terrorist activities – stemming “from the lack of training and resources” – as well as from the absence of a complete national law to fight terrorism. However, the report underscores that the political leaders of the Kingdom “demonstrated a strong commitment [in 2006] to take aggressive legal action against terrorists.”

According the State Department, “there were no indications that specific terrorist groups operated in Cambodia, but porous borders and endemic corruption could make the country vulnerable to a terrorist presence.” The authors of the report, while citing the numerous foreign cooperations offered to Phnom Penh in this field, stress in particular “Prime Minister Hun Sen's assurance to his Sri Lankan counterpart that the Tamil Tiger rebels would not receive arms smuggled from Cambodia, although the government acknowledged it was likely this has occurred in the past”.”

Another credit given to Cambodia is the destruction of 200,000 small arms over the last several years with EU assistance, and, the installation of computerized border control systems at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports and at the land border crossing of Poipet and Koh Kong, with the US assistance. The State Department concluded that “the Cambodian government also cooperated fully with U.S. requests to monitor terrorists and terrorist entities listed as supporters of terrorist financing.”

The publication of this report coincides with the return from the US of Hok Lundy, national police chief, who was invited by the FBI under the framework of bilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism, drug and human trafficking. “We met the California FBI bureau chief who informed us that Chhun Yasith [a Cambodian-American who heads the Cambodian Freedom Fighters movement, and who is accused of attempting to topple the Cambodian government in 2000, he was arrested in California in 2005] would be brought to court in July. I asked him if he (Chhun Yasith) would be sentenced, and he replied that he (Chhun Yasith) would be sentenced to life in prison,” Hok Lundy reported in an exclusive interview to the CTN TV station on Sunday evening at the Pochentong airport. He indicated that the Cambodian police would be asked to assist the trial in order to bring other evidence against Chhun Yasith.

Hok Lundy confided also that the FBI thanked the Cambodian police for the help it provided in the arrest of Hambali, the mastermind of the regional terrorist Jeemah Islamiya group, in Thailand, as well as the arrest of a terrorist cell hidden in the Um Alqura school located near Phnom Penh. “Chritopher Hill [the Human Rights and anti-drug trafficking representative for the Asia Pacific region at the US State Department] suggested that our police reinforce the application of the law, and the collaboration with NGOs involved in the anti-drug fight, and anti-human trafficking,” Hok Lundy stressed, before adding that his services were congratulated for the confiscation of important stocks of raw material for drug production – such drug would eventually find its way to the US market.

For Hok Lundy, this US invitation absolves all the accusations made against him. The Human Rights Watch group had indeed asked the State Department to cancel Hok Lundy’s visa because of his alleged involvement in human trafficking. “The FBI acknowledged that some people are opposed to my trip. However, when the FBI asked these people to provide proof, they don’t have any!” Hok Lundy replied to his detractors.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

U.S. State Department Releases 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism

U.S. State Department Releases 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism

US State Department
Press Release

Country Reports on Terrorism 2006 is the U.S. Department of State’s annual, statutorily mandated assessment of trends in international terrorism, which includes a country by country breakdown of foreign government cooperation in the War on Terror. The report covers events from January to December 2006.

The portion of the report specific to Cambodia is reproduced below. Media inquiries on the report should be directed to the U.S. Embassy's Public Affairs Section. The complete report may be found on the State Department's website at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/.

Cambodia Country Report on Terrorism

Cambodia's ability to investigate potential terrorist activities was limited by a lack of training and resources. An absence of comprehensive domestic legislation to combat terrorism also hindered the government’s ability to arrest and prosecute terrorists. Cambodia's political leadership, however, demonstrated a strong commitment to take aggressive legal action against terrorists.

There were no indications that specific terrorist groups operated in Cambodia, but porous borders and endemic corruption could make the country vulnerable to a terrorist presence. The Cambodian government believed that the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF), which carried out an armed attack in November 2000 that killed eight people, are still capable of carrying out attacks in Cambodia. The leader of this group was arrested in California in 2005. The Cambodian government was working with the FBI to bring the leader of the CFF to trial in the United States.

Various officials were identified to take positions in Cambodia’s National Counterterrorism Committee (NCTC), a policy level decision-making body established by the government in 2005 and chaired by the prime minister. The Australian military conducted a conference with the NCTC in August and expressed its intention to follow-up with a tabletop exercise with the Center.

In addition to providing assistance for the NCTC, the Australian government was helping Cambodia draft a new counterterrorism law. The draft law was being reviewed by the relevant legislative committee and the national legislature was expected to adopt it. The Australian and U.K. governments jointly sponsored a National Seminar on Counterterrorism in April to help train the Cambodian military and police. The Malaysian government cooperated with the Cambodian government on Malaysia-specific cases.

In December, following the visit of the Sri Lankan prime minister, the Cambodian government announced that a Sri Lankan military intelligence official would work with police and defense officials on intelligence matters. His announcement followed Prime Minister Hun Sen's assurance to his Sri Lankan counterpart that the Tamil Tiger rebels would not receive arms smuggled from Cambodia, although the government acknowledged it was likely this has occurred in the past. Cambodia has destroyed 200,000 small arms over the last several years with EU assistance, and, with U.S. assistance, has destroyed its stockpile of MANPADS.

With U.S. assistance, the Government of Cambodia installed computerized border control systems at Phnom Penh and Siem Riep airports and at the land border crossing of Poipet and Koh Kong. The Cambodian government also cooperated fully with U.S. requests to monitor terrorists and terrorist entities listed as supporters of terrorist financing.

Released May 1, 2007

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