Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

China lagging in economic well-being

China lagging in economic well-being - ADB

(Xinhua)
Updated: 2007-07-31 16:29

MANILA -- China and India, the two economic powerhouses in developing Asia and the Pacific, are lagging in terms of economic well-being and living standards of their population, a new study undertaken by the Asian Development Bank ( ADB) showed.

China and India account for 64 percent of total real gross domestic product (GDP) of the 23 economies participating in the study, according to "the International Comparison Program (ICP) in Asia and the Pacific: Purchasing Power Parity Preliminary Report" released on Tuesday.

However, a completely different picture emerged if the size of these economies was adjusted by population, said the study. Rather than dominating the rankings, China and India droped to 10th and 18th positions, respectively, out of the 23 economies participating in the full GDP comparison.

Similarly, China ranked 15th and India ranked 17th when economies are compared based on "actual final consumption of households" (AFCH), a better measure of economic well-being of the population.

The AFCH is a measure of what households actually consume, comprising what they purchase and what they are supplied for individual use by the government (principally education and health) . The economic well-being of the population is obtained by comparing household consumption expenditure per capita.

The five economies that top the list are Chinese Hong Kong with HK$125,303 (US$16,044) per capita; Chinese Taipei with HK$109,108 (US$13,980); Singapore, HK$99,706 (US$12,766); Brunei, HK$81,744 (US$10,466), and Chinese Macao, HK$67,639 (US$8,660).

The five economies that are at the bottom of the survey are Nepal, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

As for the people living in the two giant economies, a person living in China spends an average of only HK$11,502 (US$1,473) per year, while an Indian consumes an average of HK$9, 346 (US$1,197) per year.

Purchasing Power Parities (PPP) is an idea popularized by The Economist's Big Mac Index which prices hamburgers in global cities for a quick and crude comparison of living standards.

Based on the Price Level Index (PLI), which is the ratio of the PPP to the exchange rate, Fiji Islands and Chinese Hong Kong are the two costliest places to live in. They are followed by Chinese Macao, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei.

China ranked eighth, and India ranked 16th in terms of PLIs. Price levels in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia are very similar and are close to the Asian average.

The cheapest places are Laos, Vietnam, Iran, Cambodia, and Nepal.

"The results provide the most comparable information on breakdown of GDP expenditures across the Asia Pacific," said ADB Chief Economist Ifzal Ali.

"Purchasing Power Parities are a more appropriate currency converter to compare living standards and the structure of economies than market exchange rates," he said.

The ICP Asia Pacific is part of a global initiative managed by the ADB in collaboration with the ICP Global Office and other regional agencies across the world. The ICP results, for the first time, enable a robust cross-country comparison of major macroeconomic indicators across diverse economies of Asia and the Pacific.


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Poor rights record hampers ASEAN effort

Poor rights record hampers ASEAN effort

Tuesday, July 31 2007 (www.philstar.com)

MANILA (AFP) - Southeast Asian nations have struggled to find common ground on creating a new human rights body, and analysts say one reason is that many have poor rights records themselves.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced Monday it would form a rights body as part of its landmark charter, but the details were left vague and there was fierce disagreement from Myanmar and other member states.

"ASEAN is under a lot of pressure to improve its human rights record. And it knows that human rights has to be mentioned somewhere in its charter," said Basil Fernando of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.

"A charter without it will just be another piece of meaningless paper," he told AFP.

Diplomats had hoped to outline a full-fledged rights commission in the draft of the new ASEAN charter which was presented to the bloc's foreign ministers on Monday.

But opposition from Myanmar as well as from Laos and Vietnam resulted in a watering-down of the language, and ensured that the details were left unresolved -- and up for debate at future rounds of negotiations.

The ruling generals of Myanmar, who are most opposed to an ASEAN rights body according to diplomats, have repeatedly embarrassed the bloc and snubbed calls to restore democracy and free Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The prospect for genuine democracy in Burma (Myanmar) remains gloomy," the Free Burma Coalition said in a statement. "The junta simply flushed all these ASEAN efforts down the drain."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar acknowledged the difficulties that lie ahead to create a viable rights commission with real enforcement power to stop abuses across the bloc.

"From the start we thought it was going to be a thorny issue," he told a news conference in Manila on the sidelines of the talks.

"The next difficult step is getting it really formed. Let us cross the bridge when we come to it," he said.

Myanmar is far from the only trouble spot, however, and across ASEAN -- from the democracy of the Philippines to autocratic states such as Vietnam and Laos -- almost all have some black marks in their books.

And while a handful of members can boast of having their own human rights commissions, those bodies tend to be toothless tigers with no real powers to bring rights abusers to justice.

In the Philippines, hundreds of activists, human rights workers, lawyers, trade unionists and journalists have been murdered since President Gloria Arroyo came to power in 2001.

Few prosecutions have taken place, and a UN investigation this year delivered a damning indictment of Arroyo's government and the military over the killings.

In Cambodia, perceived as having one of the region's worst records on human rights, opposition politicians and international watchdogs say abuses have worsened as Prime Minister Hun Sen has slowly tightened his grip on power.

"The problem is getting bigger and bigger but there is no effective solution," said Thun Saray, director of the Cambodian rights group Adhoc. "Also, corruption makes it more difficult for people to find justice."

Human rights groups say that in Thailand, where a military coup last year ousted elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, at least 2,500 people were killed in 2003 and 2004 during Thaksin's get-tough campaign against drugs.

"One of the most prominent human rights abuses in Thailand is the culture of impunity," said Sunai Phasuk, a Thai consultant for Human Rights Watch.

"It's a legacy from the Thaksin government, in which government officials, particularly security forces and police, violated human rights and walked away from legal and criminal accountability," Sunai said.

Rights experts say one bright spot is Indonesia, where they say abuses have greatly decreased since the downfall of strongman president Suharto in 1998.

"The main remaining human rights abuses are those left over from the past," said Asmara Nababan, executive director of the private Institute for Democracy and Human Rights Studies in that country.

"At present, human rights violations continue to occur, but not on the scale and intensity of the past," he said.

Even if fears that the eventual ASEAN rights body will turn out to be less effective than hoped, some analysts say, just the mention of a plan for one is a significant step.

"ASEAN's human rights record is not good but there are signs that countries within the bloc are pushing hard to clean up their image," Timothy Parritt of rights watchdog Amnesty International told AFP.

"It is a small step and an important step for ASEAN," he said.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Commentary: Cambodia's extremist political culture

Lao Mong Hay is currently a senior researcher
at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong.

HONG KONG, Jul. 18
LAO MONG HAY
Column: Rule by Fear

At the end of May this year, the London-based environmental organization Global Witness published a report in which it held a "kleptocratic elite" close to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen responsible for illegal logging. A week later, instead of addressing the issues that had been raised, the Cambodian government simply banned all national media from publishing any extract from the report, and Hun Neng, Hun Sen's brother and provincial governor, was quoted as saying that "if (Global Witness staff) come to Cambodia I will hit them until their heads are broken."

Almost at the same time Supreme Buddhist Patriarch Tep Vong defrocked Tim Sakhorn, the abbot of a monastery, without due process as required in the Buddhist monastic code for disciplining monks. According to the code, an accused monk can defend himself before a community or committee of his peers. Without citing any evidence, Tep claimed that Sakhorn's "conduct was contrary to Buddhist discipline" and his misconduct impaired relations between Cambodia and Vietnam. He alleged that Sakhorn had been using the monastery for "propaganda" against Vietnam, a country with which the Cambodian government has close links.

Upon his defrocking, Sakhorn was taken away in an unmarked car and deported to Vietnam, his country of origin. He was deported without due process of law to investigate his alleged wrongdoings, in flagrant violation of his rights as a Cambodian citizen. Since this incident, the abbot has disappeared.

The drastic and arbitrary measures against Global Witness and Tim Sakhorn are but the latest developments in the history of extremism that runs deep in the political culture of present and past regimes in Cambodia. In 2006, Hun Sen refused to see Prof. Yash Ghai, the U.N. special representative for human rights in Cambodia, following the latter's negative report on human rights in the country. Instead, Hun Sen requested that the U.N. secretary-general dismiss Ghai. In June of this year, without denying the veracity of yet another negative report by Ghai, Hun Sen, who had refused yet again to see him to discuss the issues Ghai had raised, simply decided not to accept any longer his mandate in Cambodia and called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to review Ghai's appointment.

A few months earlier, alarmed by the extent of land-grabbing and the prospect of a "peasant revolution," Hun Sen declared a "war against land-grabbers." This issue could have been addressed through due process of law if the courts and other competent institutions were independent and functional.

Hun Sen in 2004 introduced an "iron fist" policy, allegedly aimed at ridding the judiciary of corruption, and a few judges and other judicial officers were tried. However, they were acquitted for lack of evidence. This drastic measure followed his 1999 order to rearrest people released by the courts in defiance of the principle of res judicata, i.e., double jeopardy. No remedies have been proposed to correct this arbitrary use of the justice system.

In March 1997, Sam Rainsy, currently the opposition leader, and his followers staged a peaceful demonstration against the "communist judiciary." The government did not like their action, and four grenades were thrown at the demonstrators, killing 19 protestors and injuring more than 100. In July of the same year, the two ruling coalition parties at the time, the Cambodian People's Party and FUNCINPEC, whose relations had been tenuous over sharing power, resorted to arms to fight each other in the streets of Phnom Penh, resulting in the annihilation of FUNCINPEC as a political force, despite their pledge under oath not to resort to force to settle disputes.

Extremism was also the hallmark of previous regimes. Prince Sihanouk, when he was head of state in the 1960s, suddenly decided, without prior planning, to nationalize the banking and other important sectors of the economy following a private bank scandal in which the government lost a substantial deposit. At the same time, he alleged that U.S. aid and the "dollar god" were corrupting influences and, as a measure to end that corruption, refused to receive substantial U.S. aid. He also cut off diplomatic ties with the United States. All these measures and others eventually led the country into turmoil and to Sihanouk's downfall.

In 1970, Gen. Lon Nol resorted to force, instead of peaceful means, to rid the country of the sanctuaries and bases of communist Vietnamese forces in the border regions, thereby engulfing the country in the Vietnam War. He also made a drastic decision to overthrow Sihanouk and the monarchy.

The Khmer Rouge emerged as the victors of that war in 1975, communist rulers who went to even much greater extremes. They were not happy, for example, with Cambodia's feudal, corrupt and unjust society at the time and rushed to destroy it. They were not happy with townsfolk and were not able to feed them. They thus forced them to the countryside at gunpoint to till the land and grow their own food until their death. They also alleged that money was corrupting. They therefore just abolished it. Furthermore, if they were not happy with someone, they simply killed him.

Now Cambodia has swung from extreme communism to capitalism which, in the absence of the rule of law, has gone to the opposite extreme. In the society destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, the biggest landholding was 132 hectares, and large landholdings were rare. Now Cambodian society has quickly become a feudal society ruled by a corrupt oligarchy under a democratic cloak in which the powerful and their cronies own up to tens, or even hundreds of thousands, of hectares of land during a time when the population has doubled and landlessness has increased. Cambodia's countryside very much resembles the English countryside during the period of enclosure.

Ironically, even Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge ideologue now about to face trial for the Killing Field atrocities, has said that the society he and his comrades destroyed was better than the present one.

--

(Lao Mong Hay is currently a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. He was previously director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto in 2003. In 1997, he received an award from Human Rights Watch and the Nansen Medal in 2000 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)

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Thach Setha: The struggle of Khmer Kampuchea Krom to preserve their culture, identity, religious beliefs


Click here to read Thach Setha speech in Khmer (PDF format)
Right click to save the speech to your computer


This speech was given by Mr. Thach Setha on the occasion of the 58th Annual Memorial Service, the saddest day in Khmer history, to honor past Khmer heroic Buddhist monks, heroic kings, heroes and leaders of Cambodia, especially Kampuchea Krom, who bravely sacrificed their lives to defend, protect, guard and preserve Kampuchea Krom, Khmer identity, Theravada Buddhism, language, culture, custom, tradition, and way of life in their own territories before, and during the time of hero Oknha Son Kuy through the present time.

For additional information about the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, please click here.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

European Parliament Calls for Halt Human Rights Violations Vietnam

2007-07-17

The European Parliament has adopted two resolutions; one on human rights in Vietnam and one on human rights in Iraq. In doing so, it has uttered support for the marginalized minorities in these countries.

Below are extracts from resolutions adopted and published by the European Parliament:

European Parliament resolution of 12 July 2007 on human rights in Vietnam

The European Parliament,

[…]

G. whereas, in February 2007, a demonstration by 200 Khmer Krom Buddhist leaders in support of religious freedom was suppressed by force in the province of Soc Trang; whereas five of these leaders were sentenced on 10 May 2007 to between two and four years' imprisonment for 'public order offences' and the religious persecution suffered by the Khmer Krom is accompanied by forced assimilation,

H. whereas the ethnic minorities of the Northern and Central Highlands are still subjected to discrimination, confiscation of their land and violation of their religious freedom, and only 38 religious groups have been recognised in the north-east; whereas neither independent NGOs nor journalists have free access to the Highlands in order to assess the real situation of the Montagnards repatriated from Cambodia,

[…]

3. Calls on the Vietnamese Government to put an end to all forms of repression of people exercising their right to freedom of expression, freedom of thought and freedom of assembly, in line with international law on human rights; repeats its call to the authorities to reform, as a matter of urgency, national security provisions, either by revoking them or by bringing them into line with international law;

4. Calls on Vietnam to carry out political and institutional reforms in order to establish democracy and the genuine rule of law, beginning with the introduction of a multi-party system, a free press and free trade unions;

5. Calls on the Vietnamese Government to respect religious freedom and to restore the legal status of all religious communities, including the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam;

6. Asks the Vietnamese Government to put an end to discrimination against the Montagnard community;

[…]

Full text of 'European Parliament resolution of 12 July 2007 on human rights in Vietnam' available by clicking here.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Cambodia's cowboy capitalism

Prime Minister of Cambodia


ASIA HAND
Cambodia's cowboy capitalism
By Shawn W Crispin

BANGKOK - Despite his rough and ready reputation, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has presided over an extraordinary transformation of the country's once war-torn, now booming local economy, marking Southeast Asia's latest successful transition from a centrally planned to market-driven economy.

But as Cambodia's capitalist reforms enter a crucial new phase - one where multilateral organization economists say that to sustain fast growth, economic benefits must be more equitably

distributed - it's altogether unclear whether Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party-led government are up to the egalitarian task.

Over the past three years, Cambodia's gross domestic product has expanded at double-digit growth rates, averaging a breakneck 11.4% per annum. Garment exports, the economy's top foreign-currency earner, accounting for nearly 14% of total GDP, grew by 20% last year, despite predictions that Cambodian producers would start to lose a substantial market share to China and Vietnam.

Foreign direct investment touched a record high US$475 million last year and, in a show of fiscal confidence last weekend, the government unveiled a new $26 million parliament building, which is about 10 times the size of the previous complex. Meanwhile, hopes are running high that recent discoveries of big new oil and gas deposits will translate into a multibillion-dollar boon and by as early as 2010 transform the country into a net fuel exporter - potentially one of Asia's largest.

Monetary authorities have successfully reined in inflation, which on average galloped well over 50% per annum throughout the 1990s, to less than 3% last year, and policymakers are now feeling emboldened enough to talk about "de-dollarizing" the economy in a nationalistic bid to shore up the local currency, the riel. International credit-rating agencies, including Standard & Poor's and Moody's, recently issued their first sovereign ratings for the country, in anticipation of new stock- and bond-market launches in 2009.

Hun Sen, a former communist guerrilla and currently Southeast Asia's longest-serving elected leader, deserves a fair measure of credit for the progress. In the state-sanctioned press, he's frequently seen presiding over the opening of new roads, bridges and schools, putting his personal populist mark on public-funded investments.

His deputies have recently taken to portraying him as one of the region's vanguard economic reformers, who began dumping communism for capitalism through limited land-ownership reforms in the mid-1980s. In advance of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, which ushered in United Nations-sponsored elections and a new power-sharing government, Hun Sen introduced full-scale land reforms, slashed price controls, privatized state enterprises and, to a degree, liberalized foreign investments.

More recently, Hun Sen has in the main stayed the course of a World Bank-designed market-reform strategy, which aims to boost the private sector and move the economy away from its age-old reliance on subsistence agriculture. That has included substantial policy reforms aimed at improving the investment climate and trade facilitation, including recent automation of traditionally corruption-prone customs-related services.

Rich man, poor man
Still, there are contrary indicators that Cambodia's emerging brand of wild and wooly capitalism is unevenly - and in instances perhaps illegally - benefiting the politically connected few at the great expense of the indigent masses.

A recent World Bank research report shows that robust economic growth over the past decade has helped to reduce the national poverty rate from 47% to 35% over the 10-year period spanning 1994-2004. Over that same period, however, average consumption per capita rose a mere 8% for the bottom fifth of the wage-earning population, while rising a whopping 45% for the top tier.

Where land ownership was seen as equitable after the 1989 land reforms, now levels of inequality in landholding and landlessness are among the highest in Asia, due to recent government policies in favor of large-scale land concessions - not to mention increasing state-backed land grabs from the poor. Lightly populated Cambodia, remarkably, now ranks worse than Malthusian dread-ridden India in this category.

The World Bank report also warned that, in general, high levels of inequality contribute to market failures and reduced investment, give rise to institutions that favor the rich over the poor and, over prolonged periods, often result in social and political instability. Those dire predictions are arguably already coming due, seen in the recent rash of land grabbling, where international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch estimate that tens of thousands of people have been forcibly evicted to make way for state projects and big plantation agriculture.

More damaging, however, were the allegations in a recent investigative report titled "Cambodia's Family Trees" issued by UK-based environmental watchdog Global Witness. The globally respected outfit alleged that senior army, police and government officials, many close to Hun Sen, including the head of his personal bodyguard unit, had profited hugely from illegal logging activities.

The report also claimed that a "kleptocratic elite" - including members of Hun Sen's direct family - were complicit in exploiting large swaths of officially protected forest lands. The report notably mentioned by name Hun Sen's wife as benefiting from the alleged illicit trade. For its part, the government banned the publication, issued a blanket denial, and threatened journalists who followed up the allegations.

One Radio Free Asia reporter was forced to flee the country after he received an anonymous death threat related to his reports, which corroborated some of Global Witness' findings. He was the second RFA reporter to flee the country this year because of concerns about possible government reprisals over critical news coverage. Further, Hun Sen refused in May to meet with the UN special representative on human rights for Cambodia, Yash Ghai, who had conducted investigations into allegations of state-backed land grabs.

Such statistical and investigative findings explain why - despite Hun Sen's recent consolidation of political power and his pivotal role in accelerating economic growth - foreign and local observers still have big doubts about his style of governance. For instance, last year international corruption monitoring group Transparency International rated Cambodia 151 out of 163 nations it ranked in its global government corruption index.

A more recent Indochina Research Limited public-opinion poll found that 88% of Cambodians feel that growing inequality in wealth is a pressing issue, while a World Bank survey released this week found that perceptions of Cambodia's government effectiveness, regulatory quality and control of corruption all declined from 2005 to 2006. Cambodia is no doubt growing, and growing fast, but increasingly the perception is that the benefits are only gushing up and not trickling down.

Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia editor. He may be reached at swcrispin@atimes.com.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Preah Vihear: The border was already settled by The Hague International Court of Justice


Preah Vihear:

The border was already settled by The Hague International Court of Justice

Near the end of June 2007, following Thailand’s reservations, UNESCO decided to “suspend” Cambodia’s request for the protection of the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage site, and the UN body asked the two countries “to quickly resolve the issue of border demarcation at this location.”

In Bangkok, according to the news published on June 29, 2007, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the following statement: “In principle, Thailand totally agrees that the Preah Vihear Temple should be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, under the reservation that the differences on the site’s joint management and the problems of border demarcation are resolved first.” Immediately after this statement, Thailand sent its “black-clad uniformed” troops to prevent the access to the temple from the Thai side, and to close the border. These actions effectively created unease and excitation on Cambodia’s side.

The action taken by the Thai troops is nothing new when it comes to the Cambodian Preah Vihear Temple. Two years ago, in May 2005, “black-clad” Thai soldiers undertook the same action towards the temple. At the time, Thammarak Isarangura, the Thai Minister of Defense, declared that “Thai troops would remain (there) to assure that there will not be any crossings into the territories in conflict, until the two countries complete their demarcation work.” In Phnom Penh, Thailand’s ambassador to Cambodia declared that Thailand intends to respect the decision of The Hague International Court of Justice which gave the ownership of the Preah Vihear Temple to Cambodia in 1962. “However, the decision concerned the temple only and it did not precise the border delineation … That’s why this problem persists until nowadays.” On July 06, 2007, Viraphand Vacharathit, Thailand’s ambassador in Phnom Penh, implicitly placed the blame on Hun Sen’s government when he declared to the news media that “Cambodia knew very well that UNESCO would suspend this decision on Preah Vihear … because of the absence of the border demarcation line…”

In 2005, Hun Sen’s government promised to “resolve this problem of border delineation as soon as possible.” Now, Khieu Kanharith, the Minister of Information and spokesman of the government, vaguely said that “some small technical problems still remain to be resolved, regarding the new housing constructions, radio [broadcast] towers, irrigation canals, etc…” On the other hand, Va Kim Hong, the government minister in charge of border issues who is even more confused that his ministry of information colleague, let it be known that there would not be “any problem left for anyone, (because) the local authorities, the Preah Vihear provincial authorities, and our local people just have to present to us their problems, and we will resolve them together.”

The issue questioned by UNESCO involves the resolution of the so-called “white zone” located in front of Preah Vihear, a zone which Hun Sen’s government admitted its existence in the past few years to the great satisfaction of Thailand, this in spite of the historical stipulations of treaties recognized by both countries since 1907, and in spite of the irrevocable decision rendered by The Hague International Court of Justice in 1962 regarding this temple. In fact The Hague Court’s decision dated June 15, 1962, clearly indicated the prior existence of a border delineation between Thailand and Cambodia at this location, BEFORE the court issued its decision to hand the ownership of the temple to Cambodia (please read the court decision attached). There was no “white zone” and there is nothing to “negotiate” again on the border demarcation in front of the Preah Vihear temple. All that remain are the reference to the maps retained by The Hague International Court of Justice, and the building of the corresponding border demarcation posts. Such operation would be completed within a few weeks.

However, we recall that the existence of these “white zones” was adopted by Hun Sen and his party, the PRPK-CPP (PRPK is the acronym for the People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea which was later rechristened to the Cambodian People Party or CPP), following their conclusions on illegal treaties and agreements with Hanoi in the 80s on Cambodia’s new borders. These illegal treaties and agreements, which are perfidiously put into application, have de facto rejected or made obsolete all or part of other international treaties of Cambodia with respect to her territorial integrity. For example, the agreement of the cession by the PRPK-CPP to Hanoi of the islands of Koh Tral and Koh Krachak Seh, and of the so-called “Historical Waters” (a maritime “white zone”) between Vietnam and the People’s Republic of Kampuchea in July 1982, changed the delimitation of the maritime border between Cambodia and Vietnam, and subsequently, the one between Cambodia and Thailand, and it created “white zones” at sea between the two latter countries also. Obviously, these “white zones” later became conflict zones, zones where the law of jungle and instability prevail, and where the first victims are the defenseless and unprotected Cambodian population, this in spite of the confused and irresponsible assurances given by Hun Sen’s government (1).

The note by UNESCO on the imprecision of the border in front of the Preah Vihear Temple – an imprecision based on Thailand’s reservations which completely ignores the decision handed by the International Court of Justice on June 15, 1962 – is a dangerous precedent on the historical rights of Cambodia’s territorial integrity: it is the UNESCO, a UN institution, which accepts, at this location, the existence of a so-called “white zone” between the two countries. What will become of the other “white zones” which were recognized by the Hun Sen’s regime and by his party with Cambodia’s neighbors? By following this path, the entire Cambodia will soon become a “white zone” for Thailand and Vietnam – if it is not one now already – just as it was 200 years ago.

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(1) During the 1954 Geneva conference, a 1:100,000-scale map produced and kept in France (latest edition­) was submitted to the International Control Commission (which was later presided by India under the leadership of Mr. K.L. Bindra), as well as a smaller scale map for ease of use under the circumstance.

On the other hand, between 1968 and 1971, France provided help to Cambodia to establish a 1:200,000-scale geologic map with the participation of 8 French geologists and engineers, as well as 20 other Khmer engineers who performed the works and the research under the direction Mr. Sean Pengse.

At the time, there was no “white zone”.

Paris, July 9, 2007

Vice-President, Cambodia's Border Committee

DY Kareth

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Tale of Three Tribes


Antonio Graceffo
16 July 2007
The dilemma of ethnic minorities lies in the choice between preserving cultures and integrating individuals into a broader society.

“The Chinese chase the Khmer. The Khmer chase the tribal people. The tribal people chase the spirits. And the spirits live in the mountains.” -- Old Cambodian Tampuan saying

In Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province, Chinese and Khmer businessmen get a village headman drunk enough and happy enough to sign a document allowing them to buy the land of a Tampuan family. Strictly speaking, the transaction is illegal, but with the signature of the village headman, no questions will be asked. With the money they get from the land sale, the Tampuan family will buy a used motorcycle, and then starve.

Missionaries convert half of an Akha village in northern Thailand. Now the Christians don’t talk to their animist neighbors. But in the Akha communal system, every member of the tribe must do his traditional job. The healer is called when people are ill. She is paid in food. The shaman, the keeper of traditions and ceremonies, is called when a new house is built or the village is transplanted. He preserves the culture and teaches it to the young. Gaining his permission before making any major changes in the village serves the dual purpose of supporting the shaman and his family, but it also preserves the forest, as the shaman is the one who knows when the resources have been depleted and the village needs to move.

Now the shaman and the healer have no customers, because the Christian villagers won’t patronize them. The villagers don’t know when the village is supposed to move, and the children aren’t being taught their sacred ceremonies.

In the Philippine province of Palawan, a far western archipelago, a remote tribal village lacks both running water and electricity. It is five kilometers from the nearest road and a three- hour drive from the nearest city. Here, a Tagbanua family survives, barely. In the corner of their filthy hut, a family member lies dripping sweat. She has been suffering from malaria for weeks. Edward Hagedorn, the well known mayor of the nearest city, Puerto Princessa, has made a satellite hospital available to the tribal people, but for reasons that are unclear they won’t go there until they are near death. Hagedorn also made free seeds available so that they could diversify their diet and increase their food yield. Once again, no one knows quite why the tribe refuses to take advantage of the program.

The plight of these three ethnic groups mirrors the problems of tribal people in developing countries the world over. Often referred to as living in the Fourth World, they are the marginalized minorities of developing nations. Although each country deals with its ethnic minorities in different ways, none seems to have found a solution. In most cases, if they remain within their shrinking cultures, they are condemned to lives that are nasty, brutish and short, in Thomas Hobbes’ phrase , faced with poverty, ill health, and a bare minimum of education that leaves them functionally illiterate. If they leave to seek education and opportunity away from the village, they contribute to the death of their culture.

Graham Brown, a representative of a non-governmental organization in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province, believes that the key to tribal survival is land ownership. His group, Community Forestry International, helps tribal people obtain rights to both their traditional forest and farmland.

“In collective cultures, everything is an all-or-nothing proposition. When one goes, they all go. Once people give up hope they will all sell their land.” Once the land is gone, Brown says, the tribes will die out.

While many of the hill tribes in Thailand have traditionally been denied citizenship because of their links to Burma or Laos and their inability to “prove” they are Thai, the indigenous tribes of Cambodia were given full citizenship and land rights by then-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Sihanouk more than 30 years ago. The problem is that many don’t understand the concept of landownership or its importance.

“They were always here,” Graham says. But national boundaries are an unnatural occurrence which hill tribes are barely aware of.

According to Dr. Carlos Fernandez, a Filipino anthropologist and tribal expert, “To call tribal people horticulturists is wrong. They are craftsmen. Agriculture is just one of the many tools available to them in their plan for survival. They also use hunting, fishing, gathering, and farming, transplanting jungle products closer to the tribal villages for use when needed. And with this combination of skills, plus weaving and making handicrafts to sell, the tribal people could exist.”

In the transition to modern society, lowlanders generally force tribal people off the best land, with a typical defense in the face of conflict being to simply push deeper into the forest. Very few tribes in the 21st century are living on the land they once inhabited. With commercial farms and others taking the choice land closest to rivers and oceans, the immediate impact on the tribal diet is they can no longer supplement it through the fishing or river trading.

As their land is squeezed, they also lose their semi-nomadic ways and are forced to remain in one place, where they deplete the soil.

Back in the Philippines, the Tagbanua faced similar difficulty. The land they have inhabited for years, and which provided them with a livelihood, no longer belongs to them. Each year, lowland Filipinos and commercial farming concerns encroach further on their land. Now, under a government program called Ancestral Domain, they can get title to the land they live on, but this means remaining in one place. It also means they are no longer able to forage in the jungle and that they have been cut off from the river.

Migrants originally from southern China like many Southeast Asians, the Akha have long been in the border regions of Laos, Burma and Thailand. Some of those now settled in Thailand were driven off land in Burma by military conflict and forced relocations. Once farmers and hunter- gatherers, many are being forced off the land in Thailand and even their high mountain fields are drying up because the water is being diverted to large-scale commercial farms. The Akha are also easy victims for drug traffickers, who use them as mules, making them convenient targets for police who need to shore up their arrest numbers toward the end of the month.

In Cambodia, most Tampuan are now sedentary farmers, but lowlanders want their land and each year convince them to sell off some of it. Their domain has shrunk until now even their ancestral burial grounds in some cases have been sold. For the Tampuan, this is a great sin. They believe deeply in the spirits and could never imagine being cut off from the spirits of their ancestors.

“It is actually the village which owns the land, but the individual families are given rights by the village headman to farm the land. They do not, however, have the right to sell the land. This respects their traditional concept of communal ownership. The commune chief and village headman, however, are not supposed to approve the sale of the land. But they do. It is all corruption,” Graham explained.

“The villagers who sell their land are referred to as nyat colcot (scoundrels),” Graham added.

“After the first sales the people lose faith in the government and in the system. They lose faith in the law and believe that they have no rights. So they sell their land. They buy a second-hand motorcycle, and the others in the village get jealous. So, they sell also.”

According to Graham, the buyers are mostly those who have made money from illegal logging, much of which is carried out by the Cambodian armed forces. They are generally politically powerful enough to exert pressure on the tribes.

“They are told they are stupid if they don’t sell, and that they are backward if they keep to ancient ways. People with no land have to move out of the village and then the structure begins to deteriorate. When they move, they have to clear new forest which is both backbreaking and illegal. And, the government will just take the land away from them.”

“Using the knowledge acquired by the tribe over centuries, they were able to work out a survival strategy that was fairly accurate,” says Fernandez of traditional life. “The upland people without irrigation may appear poor because they don’t have good houses, but they eat better than the lowland poor, who eat a mono-crop of rice. The uplanders, without irrigation, grow a variety of foods. The poor lowlanders grow only rice and sell the surplus to diversify their diet. If they don’t grow enough rice, they fall into an endless spiral of debt. Eventually, to pay off the debt, they sell land.”

The tribes “started down the slope to financial ruin was because the land wasn’t producing enough to begin with. Now, they are selling the land, and of course, losing part of their future harvest. This will create more debt and lead to selling more land,” Feranandez says.

War and political upheaval also impact the tribes, but they often have no control over those events and no defense. This is certainly true of those Akha who were displaced by the civil war in Burma and now find themselves as unwanted guests in Thailand, with no rights. Other ethnic minorities in Burma have been engaged in combat with the Burmese government for decades, but the Akha are completely passive. In Thailand they are ill-equipped to understand the political events which affect their everyday lives.

In Palawan, the Tagbanua were always conflict avoiders. When Muslim pirates raided coastal villages, the Tagbanua gave up the coast and pushed into the forest. When the Spanish invaded the Philippines, they pushed deeper into the forest. Finally, during their occupation of the Philippines from 1899 to 1945, the Americans built the first college for the Tagbanua and included them in national education programs. But more than 60 years later, the Tagbanua find it difficult to participate in education.

Tribal people everywhere are often faced with having to send their children great distances to attend school. Rainy seasons may make it impossible. During planting and harvest seasons they are also absent, as they are needed to work at home.

For Tampuan parents, like the Tagbanua, the minuscule school fees and the cost of notebooks and pencils are insurmountable hurdles. Since most Akha refugees are not Thai citizens, their children are not permitted to attend school. However, Thailand’s royal family interceded and under a royal foundation has been building schools in refugee villages where non-citizen tribal children can study. In some instances, Akha children have been given permission to attend school but the parents cannot afford the tuition. In others, the distance to the school makes it impossible for the children to attend.

Governments in all three countries have introduced elementary schools into the tribal areas but high schools always seem far away. Parents often can’t afford or don’t want to send the children away. NGOs may come in and pay for kids to leave the village and go to school in the cities, but this introduces yet another dilemma. In order to improve their lives, it children need education, but once educated many do not want to go back to the hardships of village life and this drains the village of its brightest youth.

Marifi Nitor-Pablico, the director of the Tagbalay Tribal Foundation in the Philippines, has spent years trying to understand the tribal people.

“All of the culture is lost,” she said in an interview in her office in Puerto Princesa. “All we can do is go back to the documents recorded by foreign and Filipino researchers. And there is no way to validate any of it. There is no one who can tell us if the customs or beliefs, which appear in the books still exist.

“Among tribal people, there is a memory loss about culture and a failure to find something to replace what they have lost. They are made to feel ashamed of what they are as tribal people, and made to feel they are inadequate to adopt lowland ways. That is the situation that needs to be explored. But, how do we do it? We must flesh out, what did I lose? And what did I fail to gain?”

It won’t be long until the Akha have lost their cultural memory. Although some villages struggle to maintain the culture, it is clearly on a path to destruction as long as children are shipped off to schools, missionaries invade villages, and the villagers are denied land rights. For the Tampuan, as young people move to cities like Phnom Penh in search of work, the tribe will eventually die.

If children are taken away and educated, the culture may be destroyed, but, as Pablico noted, the march of the modern world has already rendered the culture almost extinct.

For policymakers, the question is whether it is more important to preserve the culture or save and improve individual lives. In Thailand tribal people are marginalized by the state and lack citizenship or recourse to the law. In Cambodia, they have citizenship but still fall victim to predators who want to steal their land. And in Puerto Princesa, where local government is willing to help, even the experts aren’t certain what form the help should take.

Graham paints a bleak picture of Cambodia’s Tampuan situation, but it is true of tribal people everywhere.

“Many Tampuan children go to a government school whose focus is to teach Khmer values and ideas. They teach the children values which differ from their tribal beliefs. They become Khmer. And suddenly, they need things that they never needed before. They need cell phones and motorcycles. And the informal education that they get is much more powerful than the formal one. The informal education comes at the hands of officials who push the development paradigm. They are told that their tribal culture is stupid, and that what they have is backward and without value.”

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Vietnam falsifies the history of Kampuchea Krom (South Vietnam)


04 July 2007
By Kim Pov Sottan
Radio Free Asia

Translated from Khmer by Socheata

Cambodian historians are strongly reacting to a new publication issued by the Vietnamese authority on the history of South Vietnam. The new history publication claims that Kampuchea Krom (South Vietnam) is a land which Vietnam cleared, and that Cambodian people living there are nothing more than refugees fleeing from Cambodia.

Dr Michel Tranet, a Cambodian history researcher, said that this publication is a falsification of history which Cambodia’s neighboring countries undertook in the past 20 years.

Dr Michel Tranet added that Cambodia has numerous stone inscription documents, and that such falsification is unwarranted. Nevertheless, he said that Cambodian historians should hold a meeting to discuss this issue.

Dr Michel Tranet said: “Whatever they say, we don’t care, they write whatever they want to serve the interest of their nation. They don’t write to protect our land, we know this very well, and there’s nothing surprising. Therefore, we must pursue our research based on our stone inscriptions and based on Chinese (historical) documents, so that we learn about the truth. But we must know that they (Viets) are using a subterfuge on Khmer people, we should not be surprised. Therefore, no matter how much more they write, no matter how much they shout out, the most important for us is not to just shout back, we should also organize a meeting (to address this issue).”

The Vietnamese-language document received by RFA, and provided by the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) in the world, stated that on 08 March 2007, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) central committee, and the Southwest region headquarters committee have written a new book titled: “The review of South Vietnam’s history for distribution to the Vietnamese population in order to prevent the breakup of the South.”

This book claimed that the culture of the kingdom of Funan, also known as Nokor Phnom (in Cambodian), is not a Cambodian culture, and that this is also goes to the wedding tradition etc… The book went on to say that the Vietnamese presence in the southland (Kampuchea Krom) started since the 16th century AD, and at that time, because of Siamese interference, the Khmer royal family weakened. Vietnamese living in the Tuon Van area then went in to clear the lands in Dong Nai area. Later on Khmer King Chey Chetha II (an ancestor of the current Cambodian royal family) married Ngoc Van, a Vietnamese princess, and he allowed Vietnamese to establish themselves in the south, in the Prey Nokor (Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city) area.

The book went on to say that later on, the Nguyen lords occupied the entire southern area, and became the owners the land, and that later on the Vietnamese fought and won its independence from France in 1975.

The book published by the VCP claimed that Cambodian people living in South Vietnam are refugees fleeing Cambodia after the Chenla kingdom fought and took over the Funan kingdom. These Cambodians were fleeing the genocide perpetrated by the reigning Cambodian king of the time.

The book was rejected by Cambodian historians who said that the Khmer race are part of the Khmer-Mon race which was influenced by the Indian culture. Both the Chenla and the Funan kingdoms were populated by Khmer ancestors and their offsprings until now.

Ros Chantrabot’s history book on Cambodia said that the unification of all Khmer territories took place under the reign of King Pheakveakvarman I, between the 6th and 7th century AD.

Other Khmer history books said that the Cambodian territories during its apogee, extended all the way to China Sea, including the 23 provinces now located in South Vietnam.

Khmer Krom history indicated that the Southern portion of Cambodia was handed by the French colonial regime to the Vietnamese in 1949.

Khieu Kanharith, government spokesman, confirmed that South Vietnam was Cambodia’s territories, and the Cambodian population living there are the rightful owners of the land. He indicated that the Phnom Penh regime is also reviewing this issue.

Khieu Kanharith said: “Whatever document, let us look at it first before we provide an answer. But, to sum it up, even though I did not see (this document yet), Khmer Kampuchea Krom are the owners of the lands and waters there. The entire Kampuchea Krom lands are Khmer lands which the Vietnamese took away because our leaders are mediocre. But, as King-Father recognized it, now that we lost it, he will not demand it back, but he asked that the borders be clearly protected in order to preserve (what is left).”

Ching Ba Kam, an official from the Vietnamese embassy in Cambodia, claimed that his embassy did not known about this history publication yet. “Now, I can’t confirm about this book yet, because I don’t have any information about this issue. But whatever you just said, I don’t know about it, I did not read this book yet, and I don’t know its actual content, I don’t know yet. Therefore, I cannot provide any explanation on this issue.”

RFA attempted to obtain clarifications from the Ministry of Education, and the National Assembly councilor, but so far, we did not receive any answer yet.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Spectacular Sunset Rush Hour

Tourists inside the Angkor Wat temple complex during sunset in Siem Reap province, 217 miles northwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Chor Sokunthea / Reuters)

As Tourists Flock to Cambodia's Angkor Temples, Preservations Fear for Its Survival

July 4, 2007 —

Source: ABC - http://abcnews.go.com/WN/story?id=3345597&page=1

Photos: http://abcnews.go.com/International/popup?id=3250294

After years of neglect threatened to destroy the temples of Angkor during the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge, this wonder of the world is now at threat for a different reason  too much interest.

The temples were built between the ninth and 15th centuries and now face the modern threat of tourism, as millions of visitors arrive to see the more than 100 Hindu and Buddhist monuments spread across 50 square miles in Cambodia.

"The ruins of Angkor are one of the marvels of the world," John Stubbs of the World Monument Fund told ABC's Mark Litke. "There's no doubt about that."

Stubbs is at the forefront of a global effort to preserve and restore Angkor, and has spent 15 years in Cambodia to help piece together a vast archaeological jigsaw puzzle.

Crowding the Ruins

While Stubbs' work has helped to save Angkor and turn it into one of the world's premiere destinations for cultural tourism, the location's salvation may ultimately turn out to be its curse.

There's literally been a tourist invasion. In the 1990s, Angkor attracted just a few thousand visitors a year; by the end of 2007, a total of 2 million are expected to climb up, down and through the ancient ruins.

They arrive by planeload, busload, on motorbikes and even on elephants.

Visitors once had to hack through jungles to reach Angkor. Now, the route to the temples is packed with traffic jams, especially by the end of the day when more than 3,000 people assault the highest temple in the complex to watch the sunset.

In the adjacent town of Siem Reap, there were just two hotels a decade ago  now, there are more than 102, along with shopping malls, pizza joints and massage parlors.

It's hardly the serene Angkor experience some tourists might expect, as one woman told ABC News, "I think it takes away from it, I do."

But, another visitor said, "I don't. I feel that the importance of this place deserves people to watch it, see it, witness it."

Balancing Preservation With Greed

Angkor tourism has brought jobs and millions of dollars to one of the world's poorest countries, but some Cambodians fear greed is now winning out over preservation.

The scenery was even used as an exotic location for Hollywood films including "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"  not quite what the preservationists had in mind.

Stubbs said there was a need for constant vigilance as interest grew for Angkor. "There's not a minute to waste in looking after this precious place. & Because, without a doubt, it could be ruined by some wrong decisions."

But he's hopeful that Cambodians will eventually strike the right balance.

After all, they were the ones who created this magnificent, majestic site in the first place.


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