Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cambodia - Country for Sale

Almost half of Cambodia has been sold to foreign speculators in the past 18 months - and hundreds of thousands who fled the Khmer Rouge are homeless once more. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark report

Source: guardian.co.uk
# Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
# The Guardian, Saturday April 26 2008

Sang Run, his hair stiff with sea salt, chugs out into the Gulf of Kompong Som in his weather-beaten turquoise boat, looking for blackling. He scours the shallow, blue water, waiting for a shoal to appear, before skimming his net across the water. He does the same every day, taking his catch to auction on Independence Beach in Cambodia's southern port city of Sihanoukville.

It looks like a scene Sang Run was born into. But 20 years ago the beach was deserted, and he was a schoolteacher in Mondulkiri, a forested province hundreds of miles away in the east of the country. Back then, he could talk all day about palm sugar and betel nuts. He was something of an amateur botanist, but had never seen the sea - nor had any of the group who today gather around his silvery haul flapping in the sand on Independence Beach. Former nurse Srey Pov, who runs a Khmer restaurant along the beach, also came from a province many miles away. She still cannot swim, she says, shrugging. Heads nod around her. Cambodia is a nation that would drown if their boat tipped over; it is also a country whose citizens mostly do not belong to the places where they have ended up.

The Khmer Rouge saw to that, eviscerating the kingdom after coming to power. It was a movement that drew inspiration from Mao's Cultural Revolution, collectivising all the land; but it grew to love terror more than ideology. The ferocity of the regime sent more than 300,000 rushing into exile. At least two million urban Cambodians were route-marched into the paddy fields to near certain death. Worst hit was the Eastern Zone, bordering Vietnam, where Sang Run came from. Its people were derided as "duck's arses with chicken's heads" as the Khmer Rouge grew to mistrust the Vietnamese and accused Mondulkiri people of being disloyal - too sympathetic to their neighbours across the border. Their names were added to those who were to be purged; the catalogue of "crimes" became so long, so general, that anyone could stand accused. The wave of random violence and retribution that scythed through the countryside for three years, eight months and 21 days killed one in five of the population.

Sang Run's family all vanished, but he survived, hiding in the forests, living off what he could pluck and hunt. When the Vietnamese invaded in 1978 - overthrowing the Khmer Rouge a year later - Sang Run found his way, like thousands of others, to Cambodia's 300-mile long shoreline. Stretching between Thailand and Vietnam, the region had been a Khmer Rouge stronghold, controlled by Pol Pot's notorious commander, Ta Mok, who was known as The Butcher. In the 80s, when the fishing shacks and noodle stores went up along the Sihanoukville coast, there was no development plan. There had never been a tradition of thriving fishing communities along the coast - few Cambodians lived there except in the old French colonial towns. The shoreline had been empty - miles of palm-fringed beach front interspersed with the few port towns, including Kep, Sihanoukville and Ream.

Survivors began to build new lives there, learning to love the sea. Some took boats to a nearby archipelago of 22 coral-fringed, uninhabited islands, building up clusters of villages on atolls with names such as Rabbit, Snake and Turtle. Within 10 years, the whole coastline had been patchily settled by newcomers, among them a former farmer, Soch Tith, a stocky man with corncob hands, who was sick every time he got in a boat, but still found his way to faraway Koh Rong, the largest of the islands - 7,800 hectares of jungle. There he cleared small patches to grow fruit.

By 2006, these communities had schools, political representation, and many householders even had papers, stamped by the Sihanoukville governor, Say Hak, which guaranteed them the permanent right to stay under the 2001 Cambodian Land Law. The central government in Phnom Penh had in the 90s designated the entire coast and its islands as State Public Land that could not be bartered or developed.

Then, during the past couple of years, a disturbing wave of rumours swept the coastal communities. Sang Run says that in September 2006 he heard that Snake Island, half a mile out to sea, had been secretly sold to Russians. He did not check. Cambodians ask little from their government; a wariness of authority is a legacy of years of blood-letting under Pol Pot. In any case, it was a familiar story. Shortly after Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister, came to power in 1985, frenzied landgrabbing began: influential political allies and wealthy business associates raced to claim land that the Khmer Rouge had seized, gobbling up such large chunks of the cities, forests and paddy fields that Cambodians used to say the rich were eating the country. By 2006, the World Bank estimated that 40,000 had been made homeless in Phnom Penh alone. But, until now, no one had bothered with the coast. Sang Run paid no particular attention to the Snake Island rumour. He should have - it signalled a radical new course for the Cambodian government.

Three months later, Sang Run was out in his boat at 7am when disaster struck his village. He arrived back at 11am to find bulldozers had flattened his home and those of the 229 families who lived beside him. He heard from neighbours that it had happened in an instant. Uniformed men, sent in by governor Say Hak, used electric batons to chase terrified residents from the burning ruins; three of Sang Run's neighbours were knocked unconscious. Village Number One - a mundane name that failed to capture the beauty of its uninterrupted sea views and vegetable gardens that ran to the beach - had been erased. Sang Run heard that a hotel was planned, although no information was given to the people evicted from their homes for a further 18 months.

Nurse-turned-restaurateur Srey Pov tells us that, by early 2007, rumours were buzzing around Sihanoukville's covered market that virtually every island in the region was up for sale. Over the following months, Koh Russei and Koh Ta Kiev, Koh Bong and Koh Ouen, Koh Preus, Koh Krabei and Koh Tres were all snapped up by foreigners, who then started negotiating for mainland sites, too, among them public beaches with names such as Serendipity, Occheuteal and Otres. In February, 47-year-old Srey Pov was evicted, too, her Independence Beach restaurant shut down to make way for another rumoured hotel. "All I've got left is the chairs and tables," she says - they're stacked up in the cramped living room of her Sihanoukville home. Former farmer Soch Tith, on Koh Rong, was the last to hear that last month his island had been sold, too, to a British developer.

What none of these people knew was that the troubled kingdom of Cambodia, a precarious debtor-nation underpinned by more than £500m of hand-outs from the international community, had suddenly found itself a refuge for cash and speculators fleeing paralysed western financial markets. As London and New York, overcome by the US sub-prime crisis, began grinding to a halt last year, many in the City had moved on, transferring liquid assets to the east.

Foreign fund managers had started pitching up in Phnom Penh wearing linen shirts and khaki drip-dry jungle wear, alerted by the country's unexpected boom in tourism that in 2006 had seen one-and-a-half million visitors overcome the west's collective memories of Cambodia's recent past to travel to the temples of Angkor Wat. Enticed also by indicators that suggested the feeble economy was turning a corner, super-rich, predominately British, French and Swiss speculators, fuelled by a high-risk machismo, came hunting for profits of 30% or more. Their interest was land speculation: buying up large sites in developing countries that they would then sit on in the hope that, with the influx of tourists, land values would soar.

Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) have, in effect, put the country up for sale. Crucially, they permit investors to form 100% foreign-owned companies in Cambodia that can buy land and real estate outright - or at least on 99-year plus 99-year leases. No other country in the world countenances such a deal. Even in Thailand and Vietnam, where similar land speculation and profiteering are under way, foreigners can be only minority shareholders.

There were other inducements. Many foreign funds - hedge funds, property funds, private equity funds - operating on the outer margins of the financial world thrive on complexity, risk and maximising profit. In Phnom Penh, they found an ideal partner in the prime minister, who has created a unique business environment. Since the mid-90s, Hun Sen and the CPP have declined to enforce money-laundering legislation and have concerned themselves little with the probity of investors. Foreign businessmen were offered nine-year tax holidays, and were allowed to hold their cash in US dollars in banks outside the country.

"Only recently, no one would touch us," Brett Sciaroni, a Phnom Penh-based US lawyer who acts for many new western investors, tells us. "We were dirt. And suddenly we were gold." John Brinsden, a British banker, now vice chairman of Cambodia's national Acleda Bank, agrees: "In 2001, only 200 people came to the government's investment conference. At our most recent, we ran out of chairs."

In July 2007, Hun Sen, gambling on his people's tenuous connection with the land, changed the designation of the southern islands so they could be sold. The forests, lakes, beaches and reefs - and the lives of the thousands of residents - were quietly transferred into the hands of private western developers. Arguing that Cambodia could become a tourist magnet to challenge Thailand, the prime minister began a fire sale of mainland beaches. By March this year, virtually all Cambodia's accessible and sandy coast was in private hands, either Cambodian or foreign. Those who lived or worked there were turfed out - some jailed, others beaten, virtually all denied meaningful compensation. The deals went unannounced; no tenders or plans were ever officially published. All that was known was that more than £1,000m in foreign finance found its way into the country in 2007, a 1,500% increase over the previous four years. It was as if Alistair Darling, the British chancellor, had decided to raise some extra cash by trading the Isles of Wight, Man and the Hebrides, throwing in Formby Sands, the entire Cornish coastline and Brighton seafront - before trousering the proceeds.

It was abundantly clear to observers, including the World Bank and Amnesty International, that by making these private deals, Hun Sen was denying prosperity to most of his people, causing the country's social fabric to unwind like thread from a bobbin. Today, more than 150,000 people are threatened with eviction. Forty-five per cent of the country's entire landmass has been sold off - from the land ringing Angkor Wat to the colonial buildings of Phnom Penh to the south-western islands. Professor Yash Ghai, the UN human rights emissary to Cambodia, warned, "One does not need expertise in human rights to recognise that many policies of the government have... deprived people of their economic resources and means of livelihood, and denied them their dignity." He added, "I believe that the deliberate rejection of the concept of a state governed by the rule of law has been central to the ruling party's hold on power."

It was Hun Sen who, as early as 1989, realised the power of land. Rhodri Williams, a researcher for the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, points out that, as Hun Sen privatised the land, "he simultaneously cut off the rights of 360,000 exiled Cambodians, awarding prime slices to political allies and friends." The exiles were Cambodians who had fled the Khmer Rouge into Thailand and beyond in 1975; they had titles to the land, but this counted for nothing when they returned to claim it. Hun Sen said Cambodia should start again.

Although he bathes his speeches in socialist values, even his closest aides told us that Hun Sen was more often than not a pragmatist. He joined the Communist party in the 60s and enlisted in the Khmer Rouge in the 70s, before defecting to the Vietnamese-backed government in the 80s. In the 90s, he embraced the free market. Tourism was not a promising prospect in the early days - the remnants of Khmer Rouge, violently hostile to outsiders, were too much of a risk. When western travellers did begin to explore, they were taking their lives in their hands. In 1994, Briton Mark Slater, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Australian David Wilson were kidnapped while riding a train through Sihanoukville, and all of them executed. Two years later, Christopher Howes, a British de-mining expert, together with a Cambodian colleague, were murdered as they worked 10 miles north of Angkor Wat.

By 2006, the country seemed safer, and was finally becoming a tourist destination. That September, the CPP received its first foreign offer in the coastal area: a Russian investor living in Phnom Penh wanted to buy an island. This deal would become the template for every developer to come. Alexander Trofimov created a Cambodian shell company to buy Koh Puos, or Snake Island. With cash apparently no object, he proposed to stunned government officials that he would link the island to a mainland beach - known as Hawaii - with a 900-metre suspension bridge. "He also asked to buy Hawaii beach," the official who oversaw that meeting told us. "And we gave it to him." No figures were published. The official claimed he didn't know them.

Locals who used the beach and island were kept in the dark. No one quizzed Trofimov. He produced a book of cut-and-paste designs that he said would encompass a £150m resort consisting of 900 tightly packed villas, a dolphin aquarium, two hotels, a shopping centre and a marina - all crammed into an egg cup-sized island. It was enticing stuff for the CPP, although the project faltered when Trofimov was accused of having sex with underage girls, and jailed this year. However, two more Russian businessmen seamlessly emerged to take up the reins, representing a Cypriot-holding company that, it later transpired, had owned the Koh Puos project from the off.

Arnaud Darc was quick off the mark, too. A quietly spoken and likeable French businessman, Darc had arrived in Cambodia in the 90s, building a hotel and restaurant business in Phnom Penh. In 2006, after hearing from a French colleague working at Sihanoukville's provincial airport that the runway was likely to be extended, he identified two massive beach-front sites totalling more than 220 hectares that he liked the look of. He brought in Jean-Louis Charon, a Parisian real estate tycoon, whose Nexity company is the largest in France, and whose name brought in "40 French high-net worths", as Darc described them; they raised £12.5m to be held by City Star, a foreign-owned investment company. "The maths was easy, and the returns potentially fantastic," Darc said. City Star's land values quadrupled as soon as the Cambodian government confirmed the airport rumours, a spokesman for the Sihanoukville governor's office told us.

The investors could have sold up and come away rich. But this was development with a difference. City Star investors wanted more, but did not want to go to the trouble of constructing anything. They were speculating on the future value of the land, believing that by adding only modest infrastructure, perhaps attaching big-name hoteliers, they would reap vast profits in seven to 10 years. Darc's group continued buying, snapping up 333 hectares on Koh Russei and Koh Ta Kiev, two islands off Ream. Such was the appetite for easy money that City Star raised a further £30m in a matter of days from a second group of French high rollers last July, this time to buy in Phnom Penh.

Darc's model appealed to British investors behind LimeTree Capital, a Hong Kong-based private equity group that in 2007 bought up chunks of beach front near Ream; sites it planned to leave idle for many years until prices peaked. This spring, a third entrepreneur, Frenchman Alain Dupuis, through his Cambodian company LBL International, bought Koh Sramaoch. Soon after, Koh Tonsay, or Rabbit Island, was auctioned off to Chinese investors; 14 fishing families were evicted to make way for a casino and a golf course.

On the mainland, Sang Run returned to the beach to find his village in Sihanoukville destroyed to make way, supposedly, for a hotel. A few hotels have been built, but generally the sites remain empty. The Cambodian economy has grown by more than 24% over 18 months and land values have in some cases risen by more than 100%, so there are fortunes to be made from doing nothing but wait.

Australians Rory and Mel Hunter were the only investors who made an attempt to incorporate into their plans the people whose land they were buying. An advertising executive, Rory had come to Cambodia to work for an agency in Phnom Penh. During a week-long vacation in 2006, he and his wife, Mel, had set out on a diving trip around the Koh Rong archipelago and fell in love with the twin islands of Koh Bong and Koh Ouen, attached to one another by a coral reef and cupped in a shallow strait - they were known collectively as the Sweethearts. "We dreamed of a beautiful resort where people could immerse themselves in a new part of Asia," Mel said. They began negotiations with two village men to buy their houses and those owned by 60 other families. "They thought we were nuts," Rory said. "The two head guys wanted £7,500 each. We agreed and signed the contract in a boat out in the strait. We helped take down their tin shacks, and slowly relocated all the families and their homes to Koh Rong, across the strait." They worked for weeks to clear 20 years of debris, while beginning negotiations with the government to buy the islands themselves.

The Hunters drummed up backing from a handful of British speculators, including a currency broker who (preferring we didn't use his name) tells us why he leapt at the opportunity. "I loved the deal from the start. Let's be honest, who wants 6%? I wanted a deal that would wake me up in the night, sweating. We could make good money," he says over drinks in Phnom Penh, his City suit exchanged for shorts and a T-shirt. "There was a buzz about Cambodia you don't get elsewhere. It's Cambodia, the killing fields and all that stuff. Something different to show your mates back home. I show them the visa in my passport. I have something they don't."

But the Hunters' enterprise would soon be challenged by a cascade of deals involving neighbouring islands. While they worked on retraining local fishermen on neighbouring Koh Rong, British property developer Marty Kaye bought the ground from under their feet. Kaye, who had spent much of his career working on construction in Hong Kong, had spotted the island while planning an £800m luxury tourist development on a nearby Vietnamese island, Phu Quoc. He told us: "I was walking down the beach on Phu Quoc, seeing where we were going to put the golf course, and I spotted another island. No one knew what it was. We looked on Google Earth and it seemed to be Koh Rong, in adjacent Cambodia. I said, 'Let's see if we can get anywhere on Koh Rong, too.'"

Kaye, who runs Millennium property fund, began negotiating. "Here was a chance to buy an undeveloped island almost as long as Hong Kong," he said. "Nowhere else in the world could you create your own kingdom from scratch - unlike the car-crash planning of Thai islands like Koh Samui." The Cambodian government gave him 18 months to produce more details, and he worked on an outline plan whose initial development would cost £100m. When the government signed the deal, it made no mention of the census it had just carried out recording how many thousands of people (the government won't reveal the figures) live on the 7,800-hectare island.

Kaye is not worried: "Two guys and a lawyer will see everyone. But what most of them don't understand is that even if they have papers, they are not worth anything. All of them are registered only locally, not in Phnom Penh, so they will have absolutely no case. Others are just squatters with no papers at all." It helped that Kaye's Cambodian partner was tycoon Kith Meng, a multi-millionaire with interests in banking, mobile phones and real estate - and a close friend of the prime minister, Hun Sen.

"Kith Meng wants everything done yesterday," Kaye said. "We are going to move as fast as we can. It's fantastically exciting, the opportunity to zone the whole island, to see where the luxury exclusive villa plots will be, for the Brad Pitts, etc." It is an investment that gives the present residents of Koh Rong just over a year to make a solid case for keeping their homes or finding new ones.

If they are evicted, places in the area to make a new home are becoming scarce. With all the big islands sold, even smaller outcrops have gone, too, including a clump of rocks known as Nail Island, bought by Ukrainian entrepreneur Nickolai Doroshenko, who has transformed it into a James Bond-style lair, complete with a giant fibre-glass shark that soars over the fortress-like construction. He already owns Victory Beach, in Sihanoukville, a restaurant stuffed with live snakes and a bar that advertises "swimming girls".

The sale of the century continued with the mainland beaches. At the end of January, the Sokha Hotel Group, run by Sok Kong, a Cambodian oligarch and Hun Sen ally, was confirmed as the new owner of the lion's share of Occheuteal Beach, the largest and most popular public dune in the region, which was closed off to make way for a 1,000-room hotel and golf course. The deal was originally negotiated in June 2006 when, local fisherman told us, bulldozers and 10 trucks of armed men demolished 71 homes and 40 local restaurants.

Not wanting to be left out, Say Hak, Sihanoukville's governor, acquired a small island for himself, on which he built a villa and jetty; while Sbaung Sarath, the wife of his deputy, bought half of Sihanoukville's public Independence Beach in February 2008, evicting scores of families in the process. Among them was Srey Pov. She travelled to Phnom Penh with 27 other families to protest, but returned with nothing. "The developer issued a warning," she says. "They threatened to pay the city authorities to get rid of us. We knew what that meant." Independence Beach now languishes behind high fencing, as Srey Pov feared, waiting for the five-star tourists who will enjoy exclusive access to the powder-white sand.

Days later, Sbaung Sarath struck again, securing part of Sihanoukville's Otres Beach, one of the last public dunes, where Queenco, a London-listed casino company, also announced in February that it had bought 56 hectares. Queenco declined to comment on its Sihanoukville project, but it has already had consequences - 100 fishing families have been evicted. They have built a row of makeshift bamboo shacks, held together with plastic sheeting and whatever rubbish they could recycle, along a 200-yard stretch of a nearby main road. On the day we visited, they were drying out from an overnight storm that had filled their ramshackle homes with rainwater.

Aom Heat, 63, used to have a wonderful view over Otres beach and the gulf beyond. She was forced off her land last April. Now all she can see are the hubcaps and exhaust pipes of lorries that tear by. She and many of her neighbours had arrived on Otres Beach after fleeing the Khmer Rouge in the early 80s, building a fishing village they christened Spean Ches, or Burning Bridge. "When the eviction notices were served on us in September 2006, we were determined to fight," she says. She could not bear to lose everything again. "We lodged a complaint with the Senate Committee on Human Rights that ruled it was a matter for the courts." But the Sihanoukville governor's men did not wait for a court order. They turned up at the seaside village in April last year, Aom Heat says, and, "they burned down 26 houses and bulldozed 86 more, destroying all the pots and pans, clothes and food supplies. We were in a blind panic." Thirteen injured men were arrested and jailed, including one of Aom Heat's sons. Although made homeless, they were charged with "wrongful damage of property", and nine of them found guilty without witnesses or evidence produced. Despite having served their time while waiting for the case to be heard, the men were thrown back into jail pending an appeal from the prosecution, who complained they had been dealt with too leniently.

No one can agree what impact the foreign land sales will have on the Cambodian economy because so little information is made public. Although Cambodia is nominally a democracy that has held three general elections to date, and has a nominal opposition party, the CPP parliamentarians and cabinet are remote and dismissive of their people. They are not required to report on their interests or assets, making it impossible to deduce how much Hun Sen and his cabinet have personally benefited - although the World Bank reported last year that corruption, coupled with a lack of transparency, was "choking economic growth".

Since the land sell-offs, members of the government and its allies have been splashing huge sums around. A Korean developer told us that when he marketed Phnom Penh's first skyscraper, the 42-storey Gold Tower project in February, all two dozen £750,000 penthouse suites were bought within 24 hours by "an honour roll of the CPP and its friends in the military". There are other telltale signs, such as the canary yellow Hummers and hi-spec Range Rovers with blacked-out windows that rumble around Phnom Penh, in a country where the average annual income is less than £150.

Simon Taylor, the director of Global Witness, an international NGO that was forced to leave the country last year, having accused the CPP of running a logging racket, paints a depressing picture: "A shadow state has grown up, a government that misappropriates public assets, extorts from businesses and manages an extensive illicit economy. It is administered by senior ministers who are fluent in the jargon of good governance and sustainable development." One of Hun Sen's closest advisers, who requested anonymity, disagrees, telling us: "Hun Sen believes that liberal democracy is unsuited to a country whose skills have been drained and demographics wildly skewed by the Khmer Rouge."

Everything comes down to how much money you have in your pocket, according to Doug Clayton, from Leopard Asia, a fund of Swiss and British bankers that is about to invest £25m in Cambodia. "This kind of money opens any door," he says. How does Clayton pitch the Hun Sen brand back home? "Candidly? In investment circles, no one knows anything about this place. It's off the radar. In our pitch I talk up the new economic figures. I talk up stability." Clayton adds: "When the dust settles, the government here will probably end up looking something like the one in Singapore." There, Lee Kuan Yew served as prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Cambodian pollsters, looking to the general election that will run this July, predict a clear CPP victory, putting Hun Sen at the helm for many more years, too.

What will this mean for people such as Sang Run, who is now surviving in a makeshift home behind Independence Beach? Has the legacy of the Khmer Rouge been purged? Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, a local human rights NGO, thinks not: "Everyone claims Cambodia has come through the period of barbarism, but the sadism is still bubbling beneath the surface. Extreme violence, greed and disregard for the most basic human rights - of giving people a place to live - are still with us daily. The methods of the past are being used to dictate our future."


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China Ascendant

China Ascendant – Part I

Bertil Lintner - 4/29/2008
Source: Global Politicians

China, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to as “the root of everything that was evil in Cambodia” in a 1988 essay, has emerged as a major donor to Cambodia and, unlike aid from the West, Chinese assistance comes with no strings attached for promoting democracy or good governance. China is also a major investor in Cambodia, mainly in the garment industry, but also in agriculture, mining, hotels and tourism.

The Chinese are coming. If the plan holds, the small and sleepy capital of Laos, Vientiane, might look like Manhattan on the Mekong. More than architectural statement, the construction of the new Chinatown in Laos will mark the newest evidence of China’s rising influence in Indochina, once the playpen of Vietnam.

An artist’s impression in state-owned media shows the shape of new development that will turn marshland into a modern city, populated by an estimated 50,000 migrants from China. The Associated Press reports that a Chinese company leased the land.

China’s profile and influence in Laos have grown steadily over the past few years at the expense of the landlocked country’s longstanding friendship with Vietnam. Similar development has taken place in Cambodia, another close ally of China’s longtime rival in the region, Vietnam. China, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to as “the root of everything that was evil in Cambodia” in a 1988 essay, has emerged as a major donor to Cambodia and, unlike aid from the West, Chinese assistance comes with no strings attached for promoting democracy or good governance. China is also a major investor in Cambodia, mainly in the garment industry, but also in agriculture, mining, hotels and tourism.

This development has not gone unnoticed in Vietnam. In the case of Laos, to alleviate fears of a shift in foreign allegiances, the official media have over the past year protested a bit too much about the traditional friendship with Hanoi, repeatedly mentioning the 1977 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the two communist-ruled countries. Symbolically, a stylistic painting showing Lao and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians linking arms under national flags won first prize in a Vientiane art competition 19 September 2007, the 20th anniversary of the treaty’s signing. On Lao television, Lao and Vietnamese dignitaries meet and proclaim the “everlasting friendship” between the two countries.

But Laos’ allegiances have changed and that’s reflected in the history of three apartment blocks on the road to Vientiane’s Wattay Airport. Built in the early 1970s to accommodate operatives of the US Central Intelligence Agency and other American advisers, the buildings were taken over by Soviet technicians when the communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975. Today, the Mekong Hotel and Apartments cater to a mainly Chinese clientele, with one floor housing the Beijing Restaurant.

The number of Chinese working in Laos has increased in recent years. According to official statistics, about 30,000 Chinese now live in Laos, but the real figure could be 10 times greater. Thousands of Chinese work on the Asian Development Bank–funded Route 3 that runs from Boten, on the border with the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, through Luang Nam Tha in Laos, down to the Mekong River at the Houei Xay ferry crossing opposite Chiang Khong in Thailand, where a bridge is planned as well. When finished, the highway – and Laos – will be China’s main overland connection with Southeast Asia.

At the same time, China has become a major investor in Laos with 236 projects worth around US$876 million, a considerable increase from US$3 million worth of investment in 1996. The total Chinese direct investment approved by Laos’ Committee for Planning and Investment up to August 2007 amounts to US$1.1 billion, second only to Thailand’s projects worth US$1.3 billion. About a third of the Chinese investment is in hydropower, and the Laos government has granted Chinese companies concessions to mine gold, copper, iron, potassium and bauxite. Vast tracts of land have been farmed out to Chinese interests for rubber plantations.

China’s assistance to Laos since the late 1990s has reached nearly US$500 million in grants, interest-free loans and special loans. China has built a huge Culture Hall in Vientiane, ostensibly in traditional Lao style. In November 2004, China beautified the park around the Vientiane landmark Patouxay, the capital’s Arch of Triumph, and now constructs a stadium for the Southeast Asian Games, which Laos will host in 2009.

According to a June 2007 report in the English-language Vientiane Times, special loans from China helped establish the Lao Telecom Company and Lao Asia Telecom, and also funded a cement factory, the purchase of two MA 60 aircraft for Lao Airlines, as well as several government internet projects. The Chinese ambassador in Vientiane participates in donors’ meetings and plays an active role in the social life of Lao-based diplomats. Soon he’ll be joined by thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Chinese citizens in Vientiane’s new Chinatown, which, for reasons of sensitivity, is called a “New City Development Project.”

In Cambodia – where China once supported the dreaded Khmer Rouge regime both when it was in power and later as a resistance force against the regime that Vietnam installed in Phnom Penh in January 1979 – the political situation began to change when Hun Sen ousted his then coalition partner, royalist leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, in a June 1997 coup. Cambodia’s Western donors were not amused: The US and Germany suspended non-humanitarian aid until a free and fair election was held. Japan, Cambodia’s largest donor, said it would halt new projects.

But China came to Hun Sen’s rescue. Longtime Cambodia watcher Julio Jeldres notes that China was the first country to recognize the regime after the coup; in December that year, Beijing delivered 116 military cargo trucks and 70 jeeps valued at US$2.8 million. In February 1999, Hun Sen paid an official visit to China and obtained US$200 million in interest-free loans and US$18.3 million in foreign-assistance guarantees. The number of Chinese settlers in Cambodia is unknown, but estimated to be in the thousands.

The “new” Chinese, who for various reasons have settled in countries such as Cambodia and Laos, are more assertive than older Chinese communities in the region. According to Andrew Forbes, a Thailand-based China expert who spent more than 20 years studying China’s relations with Southeast Asia: “They’ve grown up in a country which is stronger and far more unified than before. There’s a new sense of being Chinese: the new migrants are patriotic and loyal to the motherland.”

This sense of national pride provokes tensions between new-generation migrants and older settlers, who fear the newcomers’ outward display of nationalism could rekindle longstanding suspicions towards ethnic Chinese communities in their adopted countries.

There have been incidents of anti-Chinese hostility that bear out those concerns. For example, in May 1999, 300 “new” Chinese massed outside the US embassy in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to protest the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. A smaller gathering of ethnic Chinese Cambodians, in the country for generations, held a counterdemonstration, heckling the protesters: “You’re not our brothers,” one yelled, referring to the suffering of Cambodia’s Chinese during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime. “Your people killed my people during Pol Pot’s time.”

But the Vietnamese have greater reason to fear China’s rising economic, political and demographic clout in the region. Vietnam, once a leading force in Indochina, is becoming isolated from traditional allies. It still retains some influence in Laos, and trade between the two countries is not insignificant. But once Vientiane’s new Chinatown is built, that may change and the people of Laos have to adjust to their country’s becoming an extension of Yunnan.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Khmer at a Crossroads

Chaimongkol Chalermsukjitsri, an ethnic Khmer and Thai citizen, poses with children at a school he runs in Chruy village in Surin, Thailand. He has opened four Khmer language schools in Surin over the past two years in an attempt to save what he sees as a dying language. (Photo Supplied)

Friday, 18 April 2008
Written by Brendan Brady
Phnom Penh Post

One man fights to keep the Khmer language alive in Thailand despite signs that those along the border would rather be speaking Thai

Thai national Chaimongkol Chalermsukjitsri never misses a chance to speak Khmer, addressing market vendors, porters and street cleaners in the indigenous tongue of northeast Thailand’s Surin province.

An ethnic Khmer from the border region of Thailand once controlled by the Angkorian empire, 42-year-old Chaimongkol has set up four Khmer language schools in Surin over the past two years in an effort to revive what he claims is a dying language in the region.

He is currently negotiating with the largest secondary school in Surin to include Khmer language classes in their curriculum.

But the roughly 100 enthusiastic learners at his language schools are far from representative of most Khmer in Surin, who are letting their linguistic heritage slip away, according to Chaimongkol.

Chaimongkol recently took his cause to Phnom Penh, telling education officials in the capital that Khmer has fallen out of common use in Surin, particularly among youth, and is at risk of further decline with each generation.

Chaimongkol says parents cultivate a Thai-speaking household because they believe speaking Khmer is of little value to their children’s future.

“In education and work, Khmers have struggled to find a better life. So they think getting rid of their background will help them get a job.

“There are many things that change the attitudes of young Khmers in Surin about being a Khmer speaker. Thailand is stronger than Cambodia, economically and politically. I suspect many have the impression that Cambodia is more barbaric than Thailand,” he says.

The absence of attractive pop-culture materials in Khmer, such as music or movies, makes it even harder to motivate youth to take an interest in their ancestral language, he adds.

Chaimongkol says apathy towards preserving Khmer also comes from education officials.

When he asked teachers at a school in Sisaket province – also on the Cambodian border – if they had considered teaching Khmer, “they had a big laugh," he says. "That is what always happens."

He recalls a recent conversation with a university faculty member from Bangkok who said she could spare him a grant if he taught Khmer using Thai scripts.

Chaimongkol says he saw the offer as an affront.

"Later on, she told my partner that if my school expanded then it would be like [insurgent-wracked] southern Thailand. I should be under control, this was her meaning.

"I told them that I just want to protect my language. You don’t allow me to go to your school. Okay, I don’t."

Other than this instance, he says he hasn't encountered any opposition from Thai authorities.

"I've put up signs in public places and I've sent numerous letters to many officials for support, and the Surin governor himself even opened up a course at the provincial hall to promote the learning of the Khmer language among the government ranks of the province," Chaimongkol says.

If Northern Khmer is lost in Thailand, people will lose an important link with their cultural identity, argues Chaimongkol.

"Losing language means losing one's pride," he says.

Still, funding from Cambodians is limited and Chaimongkol says his mission is an exhausting, uphill battle.

Cambodian donor Chantara Nop says he offers financial support because Khmer Surin are his kin. They had worked hard to preserve the Khmer language, he says, but in the last 50 years those efforts have been erased. "But now Chaimongkol is the chosen one."
Mr. Chaimongkol Chalermsukjitsri can be contacted at:
Chaimongkol Chalermsukjitsri
Project Coordinator
Indigenous Language Education Project (ILEP)
P.O.Box 27, Surin, Thailand.
Fixed Line: 044-520-179
HP 0875815514
email: khmersurin@gmail.com


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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cambodia needs anti-torture commission

April 16, 2008
UPI Asia Online

Column: Rule by Fear

HONG KONG, China - Between 1975 and 1979 the Cambodian people suffered the world's worst torture in recent history. The worst acts of torture were carried out at the notorious Tuol Sleng center in Phnom Penh by the then Khmer Rouge regime. This center has been turned into a genocide museum since the overthrow of that regime in 1979.

Torture did not end with the end of that murderous regime, though it has drastically declined in comparison. It is still perpetrated at police stations, prisons and other detention centers, and the police still show brutality in the eviction of people from their homes and lands, and in banning public demonstrations.

In February 2008, in Koh Kong province, a young fisherman was allegedly beaten and kicked about immediately after his arrest and later on when in police custody, making him lose consciousness on both occasions. Hardly two weeks later, in Kep seaside town, a police officer was arrested and then allegedly shackled day and night for 24 days in a windowless cell at a police discipline unit for allegedly disobeying the order of the country's national police commissioner to cede his land to a senior government minister.

Nevertheless, the Cambodian government has seemed to show its earnestness in combating and preventing torture. In 1992 it became a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, or CAT. In 2005 it signed the Optional Protocol to this Convention, or OPCAT, hardly three years after this protocol had been adopted. In 2006 it supported the trial, and welcomed the sentencing to 12 years' imprisonment, of six police officers for the torture and murder of a woman in police custody. In 2007 it ratified OPCAT, becoming only the second Asian country to do so and the 34th party to this protocol.

However, Cambodia's earnestness has not been matched by deeds as required by the two related international human rights instruments. It has as yet to enact a law to criminalize torture and lay down a procedure for victims to have their right to freedom from torture adjudicated and promptly redressed, as stipulated in CAT.

Likewise, it has yet to make a declaration recognizing the competence of the U.N. human rights body called the Committee against Torture, created under CAT. With this recognition aggrieved individuals can resort to this committee when domestic institutions fail to adjudicate their rights and award appropriate remedy, which is very much the case in Cambodia.

The Cambodian judiciary and other competent authorities have failed to act, let alone promptly, to address torture cases. In the case of the alleged police torture of the young fisherman mentioned above, the prosecution in Koh Kong province turned down the complaint of torture against the police filed by that young fisherman. He could not get his complaint accepted and acted upon until after the prosecutor had moved to another position and been replaced.

The prosecution in Kampot province accepted the complaint against the alleged police torture and illegal confinement of the police officer in Kep seaside town when it was filed, but it has not been acted upon.

Cambodia has also failed to honor its obligations under OPCAT which prescribes, among other things, that state parties must create a national mechanism to prevent torture within the prescribed 12 month period after they become a party to it. Cambodia became party to OPCAT on March 30, 2007, yet 12 months have already elapsed without it setting up any such mechanism, despite the offer of outside assistance.

According to OPCAT, this anti-torture commission must be an independent body. It must have power of access, without hindrance, to all places where persons deprived of their liberty are detained; the right to meet in privacy any of those persons; authority to make recommendations to protect those persons' fundamental rights including freedom from torture; and its recommendations should be heeded by all authorities responsible for those detention centers where violations of rights have been detected. The body must also have adequate resources to do its work.

The Cambodian government must not delay any longer the creation of such an anti-torture commission as prescribed by OPCAT and its declaration of recognition of the competence of the Committee against Torture under CAT. Cambodia's judicial or other competent authorities should promptly investigate acts of torture or other ill-treatment, adjudicate these acts, punish the perpetrators, award appropriate remedy to their victims, and take appropriate action to prevent the repeat of such acts.

Any further delay and any continued failure to take action to combat and prevent torture will harm the Cambodian government's credibility and cast doubt upon its earnestness in combating torture. It will also raise suspicions that it condones torture and other forms of ill-treatment of a population which has already suffered so much from such atrocities in its recent past.
(Lao Mong Hay is 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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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Khmer Horoscope: Year of Rat

Happy Khmer New Year


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Will the Cambodian Elections Be Open?

Cambodian Minister Asks Vietnam 'To Assist' in Maintaining Security in Election

Cambodia thanks Vietnam for military assistance

Will the Cambodian Elections Be Open?
By LENG Sovady

Previous News:
Cambodian Minister Asks Vietnam 'To Assist' in Maintaining Security in Election
Cambodia thanks Vietnam for military assistance

Will the general elections on July 27, 2008, for the fourth term of office be fair ? The study of the election legislation and recent events prove people’s choice will be under diverse pressures and intimidations as well as election frauds.

On the past 25th of March, the minister of Defence of the Royal government led by Mr Hun Sen, Mr Tea Banh visited the president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Mr Nguyen Minh Triet. On this occasion, Mr Tea Banh warmly thanked Vietnam for its military support to drive Pol Pot out in 1979. And he asked for a Vietnamese military support to insure law and order during the elections.

The military support in 1979 turned into the occupation of Cambodia, which became Vietnam’s slave as a compensation for the spending. The occupying army looted the rest of the national wealth after Pol Pot’s rule and notably, furniture, precious stones, factories, doors, windows, all things transportable and so on…

And Vietnam uselessly imposed on the Cambodian people the “K5” policy for its military strategy, which caused 200,000 casualties and family disorganizations.
The treaty of Paris signed on October 23, 1991 and the election results in May 1993 under the aegis of UN were needed to get rid of this sturdy military support so praised by Mr Tea Banh.

He certainly knows all those ploys because he is a minister. His approach is disingenuous during the election period, and, moreover, the PPC, this minister’s party, is spreading the rumour that if the elections were lost for him, risks of civil war would be run. As the Cambodians are traumatized by the war, they could change their choice.

For the elections in 2003, Phnom Penh had threatened to use armed forces if protests were uttered like in 1998 against election fraud. This time, the authority is using other means like threatening with the occupation by Vietnamese forces, which reminds the Cambodians of the dark times from 1979 and 1991.

The general elections are organized by the National Election Committee (NEC) nominated by the council of ministers after the Home minister’s advice, according to the new article 13 of the election laws promulgated on December 26, 1997 and renewed on February 7, 2007 during the time when the PPC had absolute power after the collapse of FUNCIPEC following the coup on July 6, 1997. And then, this committee will nominate the local election commissions (new article 18). Eventually, after this commission’s proposition, the national election committee will nominate the election commission in the polling station, composed of a president, a vice-president, a secretary and two members (new article 22).

According to these laws, the election organisms should be neutral. But how could we believe in the neutrality of such organisms nominated by the authority?

This is a difference with the French practice. The political parties that participate in the elections, have only the right to send delegates as observers to the polling station (new article 26) and have not the right to take part in the election process. In France, the political parties may send assessors to participate in the election process from the opening time of the polling station onward and check the registers and electors’ identity.

If the Cambodian election legislation is applied, the election commission in the polling station could easily fraud if they were determined to do it because the party delegates have not the right to check the registers and the electors’ identity.
On these reports, protests in 1998 and 2003 were justified by the gaps in the legislation.

So, the national election committee should amend the present laws by enabling the political parties to send assessors for the voting process, so that the general elections should be really democratic. Otherwise, suspicion towards the committee’s neutrality and voting process transparency will persist.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Marriage vs. Trafficking

Cambodian Move Indicates Exploitation of Foreign Brides
Source: The Korea Times

South Korea has increasingly come under attack for the abuse and exploitation of foreign wives, especially those from Southeast Asian countries. The plight of Vietnamese wives married to Koreans has already invited international criticism over rights abuses and human trafficking. It is heart-wrenching to read frequent stories that Vietnamese spouses were beaten to death or committed suicide ― far from realizing their ``Korean dream.''

What's more worrisome is that such a story does not stop with the ill-fated Vietnamese. The problem is now spreading to Cambodia. The Cambodian government has recently suspended processing all documents for marriages of its citizens with foreigners as a measure to minimize the possibility of human trafficking. You Ay, Cambodia's deputy minister of women's affairs, said April 3 that the suspension was prompted by concerns about exploitation and trafficking amid a surge in the number of Cambodian women marrying South Koreans.

She said the suspension affects all foreigners, not just South Koreans. But it is apparent that the measure was closely related to soaring cases of abuse of foreign wives in South Korea. She was quoted as saying that seven Cambodian women recently returned to their country because they could not endure pain from their married life with their Korean husbands. However, the official said the country has yet to uncover systematic exploitation.

The Cambodian move came after the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) disclosed a report that thousands of South Korean men went to the Southeast Asian country to marry Cambodian women through brokers. The report featured the plight of a rising number of Cambodian brides migrating to South Korea in marriages hastily arranged by brokers who make huge profits.

The report noted that each man would pay up to $20,000 to marry a woman but that a bride's family would collect only about $1,000. The rest of the money would go to the brokers. There are growing concerns that brokered marriages could become a cover for human trafficking. Critics pointed out that marriage brokers have made inroads into Cambodia following a series of deaths, including suicides, of Vietnamese wives.

According to official statistics, about 1,800 Cambodia women married South Korean men in 2007, recording a fourfold increase from a year before. The figure was the third largest after Korean-Chinese women and Vietnamese brides. No doubt underground matchmaking businesses and marriage brokers have women trafficked and forced into marriage, tarnishing the image of South Korea.

A revised interracial marriage brokerage law is to go into effect in June in a bid to crack down on brokers for human trafficking-style methods. And a multicultural family support law is scheduled to take effect in September. It is urgent for the country to establish a firmer system to embrace foreign wives as well as migrant workers as indispensable members of our society. Interracial marriages now account for 10 percent of total marriages. Therefore, we have to roll up our sleeves to ensure human rights and equal opportunity for brides and workers from other countries.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Letter from Tioulong Saumura to the Cambodia Daily

Phnom Penh, 31 March 2008

Letter to the Editor,
The Cambodia Daily

Dear Sirs,

In its issue dated 31 March 2008, The Cambodia Daily reported that I was "implicated in detention claims" made by former SRP commune councillor Tim Norn, who alleged that I "detained her in Phnom Penh to prevent her from joining the CPP".

Had I been contacted by your reporter*, I would have brought the following information to his knowledge:

  1. On Saturday 16 February, Ms. Tim Norn came to the SRP headquarters and requested a meeting with me. She told me that former SRP MP for Kompong Thom Sok Pheng had convinced her to defect to the CPP and gave her $200, but that she regretted her decision and was scared because she had already taken and spent the money. She asked me to give protection to her and her family

  2. I replied that she has the right to choose which political party she wants to be a member of, she has the right to then change her mind, resign and join another party. But, once she has resigned from SRP and put her thumbprint on a written statement saying that she joins CPP, she is now a member of CPP and nobody at SRP has anything to do with her anymore.

  3. As she seemed frightened and kept on repeating that she did not want to go back to her village in Baray district, I said that we are a political party, not a shelter and advised her to submit her case to a human rights organisation such as Licadho or the UN Centre for Human Rights. I phoned Licadho to check whether it was open on Saturday.

  4. Ms. Tim Norn went to Licadho's office by her own means. Later, I joined her when she was talking to Licadho's staff, confirmed that she was a former SRP activist, made sure that she was taken care of, and came back to my office.

The claim that I detained Tim Norn does not make sense:

  1. I have no means to force anyone to stay anywhere against his/her will. I don't even know how long she stayed with Licadho, when she left and why.

  2. The Sam Rainsy Party is an organization made-up of volunteers who adhere to the ideals advocated by President Sam Rainsy. What binds us together is the common faith in the ability to bring about changes by peaceful, legal, non-violent and democratic means. The strength of the party is based on the free will of our members. In our party, nobody can "force" anyone of us to donate our time, effort, money, and risk our assets, peace of mind, lives. So, there is no rationale for me to try to keep someone by force.

  3. Tim Norn having ceased being one of our members, I still wanted to help her on humanitarian grounds, which is what I often do when I meet people needing assistance. That is why I advised her to seek assistance from a human rights organization and from the UN Centre for Human Rights.

In your article, you quote SRP Secretary General Eng Chhay Eang saying that he did not know when I would return to Cambodia. Actually, I am leaving Paris tomorrow 1st April, arriving on the 2d. My schedule is linked to the preparation of the autobiography of MP Sam Rainsy. The deadline of the French publisher was today 31 March. MP Sam Rainsy had to attend the commemoration of the grenade attack on 30 March, I took care of the final round of proof-reading before giving the imprimatur today.

Yours sincerely,

Tioulong Saumura, MP (Ms.)

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Concerns over Political Intimidation and Obstruction prior to the 2008 National Assembly Elections Preparation Stage


Joint Statement
Concerns over Political Intimidation and Obstruction prior to the 2008 National Assembly Elections Preparation Stage

COMFREL, NICFEC and CHRAC are greatly concerned over the ongoing situation of political influence over the judiciary system, court and law enforcement armed forces (1), especially the recent arrests and attempted arrests, the use of violence toward political parties’ activists and the ongoing obstruction of some political parties’ activities. These cases take place repeatedly in Phnom Penh, Pailin, Kampong Thom, Takeo and Kampong Chhnang, with a negative impact on the environment for fair and free elections.

Arrests political parties’ activists without a court warrant and without in-depth investigation cause an environment of fear and mean that non-ruling parties’ activists dare not do anything. According to CHRAC’s Statement, Mr. Tout Saron, Kampong Thom’s Baray’s Ponro Commune Chief, was summoned at Toul Kroeus Market, Baray District by police officials led by Baray District Police Chief without showing a court order. In the meantime, there is a question about the different answers given by victim Toeum Norn, first when she met with a LICADHO officer and an officer of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, and then later. On February 18, 2008, at the LICADHO office, Mrs. Toeum Norn did not make a complaint about detention against her will. Instead, she asked for help from LICADHO to protect her and her family, as she had previously defected from the Sam Rainsy Party to the Cambodian People’s Party and later wanted to go back to the Sam Rainsy Party. But, later on she said she was afraid the Sam Rainsy Party may kill her (2).

According to the CHRAC investigation, Mrs. Toeum Norn did not lose her rights to communicate with her friends and family. And there is nothing to prove that Mrs. Toeum Norn was either detained or arrested.

There has been obstruction and prevention towards some political parties, including the Sam Rainsy Party, the Human Rights Party, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and FUNCINPEC from carrying out political activities such as meetings and, in some cases, local authority crackdowns on meetings and taking down of a political party’s signboard. Evidently, there was violence involved in taking down a Sam Rainsy Party signboard, causing Member of Parliament for Phnom Penh H.E. Mr. HO Vann to be injured on March 22, 2008. The taking down of a Sam Rainsy Party signboard also took place in Pailin. A Norodom Ranariddh Party signboard in Banteay Meanchey was also taken down. In total, until now, there have been at least 20 cases of taking down of political parties’ signboards. These cases, which have happened to non-ruling parties, have not been addressed fairly and effectively.

The political party and candidate registration for the elections is due within less than one month. However, the Prince Norodom Ranariddh case has not been settled yet. This can be considered as contributing to an unequal election contest: the leader, and maybe a potential candidate, of one party cannot contest in the upcoming elections.

Civil society highly appreciates the efforts of the Royal Government and competent authorities who have ensured that the 2008 pre-election environment has seen no cases of murder and severe violence towards politician. However, the competent authorities should continue to try their best to stop arrests, intimidation and violence towards political party activists and politician. The Royal Government, competent authorities and relevant stakeholders should make efforts to effectively settle any case to ensure a good environment for free and fair elections and to ensure politicians and political party leaders (such as Prince Norodom Ranariddh) can contest in the elections fairly without any fear.

Phnom Penh, March 27, 2008


For further information, please contact:
1. Mr. KOUL Panha, COMFREL's Executive Director, 012 942 017
2. Mr. HANG Puthea, NICFEC's Executive Director, 012 959 666
3. Mr. SOUN Sareth, CHRAC's Secretariat, 012 830 422

(1) This was noted in LICADHO and ADHOC’s report on Cambodian Human Rights December 2007: ‘Charade Justice’.
(2) According to LICADHO’s report and the Cambodia Daily, published on March 24, 2008 (P.5).

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cambodia: The High Cost of Closure

Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea attends a verdict at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on March 20, 2008. Mak Remissa/AFP/Getty Images

Asia April 1, 2008, 7:22AM EST text size: TT
Cambodia: The High Cost of Closure
With a $170 million price tag, the genocide trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders could be imperiled for lack of donor funds
by Susan Postlewaite
Source: BusinessWeek.com

Dressed in a khaki shirt and slumped in his chair, eyes closed as the judges read the proceedings, the frail and white-haired "Brother No. 2" doesn't look the part of a mastermind of the 1970s reign of terror in Cambodia. Arrested at home near the Thai border last September, 82-year-old Nuon Chea is the top-ranking Khmer Rouge official to face trial for his role in the Cambodian genocide. But with his health deteriorating, the court worries he may die before the trial's conclusion. So haste is of the essence.

That's one factor that international aid donors must consider when deciding whether to foot the $170 million bill for the U.N.-sponsored trials of Nuon Chea and four other former Khmer Rouge officials. Trying them is proving far more costly than organizers had planned. The court's budget, originally $53 million for three years, has ballooned to $170 million for five years. And after a year and a half of operations, the hybrid court (run by both the U.N. and the Cambodian government) is running out of money. The Cambodian side has announced it runs out of funds in April.

Nearly 30 years after the end of the "killing fields" that left 2 million people dead, many Cambodians are wondering whether getting justice is worth the expense. Some think the trials in Cambodia are, as the former U.N. Secretary-General's representative in Cambodia Benny Widyono says, "a little too late."

Report of Overspending
But others feel that closure is necessary. "We want to see who is responsible for the killing," says Touch Vunly, a retired government soldier who now farms near Cambodia's border with Thailand, not far from the house where Khieu Samphan, who was a member of the Khmer Rouge central committee, lived before his arrest. Touch Vunly says he has no grudges, but he adds that he would like to know whether "the leaders have to take responsibility if they do wrong." In a country where criminal behavior has for years gone unpunished, that may be the argument that persuades donors that spending as much as it takes on the Khmer Rouge trials is good value.

One problem: Donors want to know what's happened to some of the money they've already pledged. A U.N. audit report found inflated salaries and overstaffing on the Cambodian side of the court and harshly criticized the court for paying Cambodian staff $3,500 to $5,300 a month—in a country where teachers and civil servants still get less than $100. The high salaries mean the court has not been able to use lower local costs to make proceedings less expensive than in places such as The Hague, Netherlands, home to the war crimes trials for the former Yugoslavia.

Donors who have funded the tribunal until now aren't saying how much more they're willing to spend. The biggest donors have been Japan ($21.6 million) and France ($3.2 million). The European Commission, Australia, Canada, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and India have limited their contributions to a few million dollars or less, according to the court's financial statements. (The U.S. hasn't contributed anything.) The donors declined to comment on future pledges except to say they have sent questions to the U.N. about the expense. Cambodia has pledged $1.5 million cash, but says in-kind contributions would bump it to about $5 million for such things as taking care of the defendants in jail and the land for the court.

The new budget would cover expenses including more than $120,000 a year in medical costs for the five elderly defendants: Nuon Chea; Khieu Samphan; Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch"; and Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith. That includes round-the-clock doctor and nurse coverage at the court and an ambulance that often ferries defendants to Calmette Hospital 45 minutes away. And it also would pay for international doctor visits, particularly for Ieng Sary, the 82-year-old former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister, who has heart problems.

War Crimes Trials Are Expensive
Lawyers leading the case against the Khmer Rouge officials are hopeful that a lack of funds won't shut down the court. "I don't think we will stop in mid-stride," says Robert Petit, chief co-prosecutor for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), the tribunal's official name. Petit, a veteran of war crimes tribunals in Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor, and Sierra Leone, says war crimes trials are expensive. The ECCC, for instance, requires translation of documents and proceedings into English, French, and Khmer. While only five defendants are facing trial now, the prosecutors' office is investigating others as well.

Petit won't say whether more arrests will come. But he argues one measure of the court's success will be its ability to create a legacy for future generations. "We have to make sure at the end the evidence and our interpretation of the evidence is available so they can use it to move forward. That is complex and requires funding." The donors' funding also is helping to pay for attorneys for the accused. Defense Support Section chief Rupert Skilbeck says he has funding to provide a strong enough defense for the five to envision possible acquittals. "Usually everyone thinks they're guilty, but they have not looked at the evidence," says Skilbeck, a British lawyer and also a veteran of other war crimes tribunals.

Cambodia isn't the only court that has faced money problems due to a lack of accountability or financial controls, says Michael Johnson, the former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia who was also involved in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Bosnia and Herzegovina War Crimes Chamber. He says the Bosnia court—eight courtrooms and about 400 defendants—is running about $10 million to $11 million per defendant. But other courts such as Rwanda—purely an international court (not a hybrid local/international as in Cambodia)—ran about $30 million per defendant; Sierra Leone was also high. In East Timor, another hybrid court came out at about $10 million per defendant, but critics say it ended up with a standard of justice that did not meet international criteria. "There is a real lack of accountability within the administration of these systems," says Johnson, who favors a special adviser to monitor and cut costs.

U.N. Appoints Veteran Prosecutor

However the Cambodian side of the court does not want a special adviser, insisting it doesn't want "a new party to be above the court," according to a spokesperson. And if the U.N. side got a special adviser, the Cambodian side would also be entitled to one at 50% of the U.N. adviser's salary.

The U.N. intervened last week, announcing after a meeting in New York with officials of the ECCC that David Tolbert, who has been prosecuting at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, will become Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. for three months to "advise the U.N. on its assistance to the ECCC." The U.N. says the appointment is "essential during the forthcoming months leading up to the first trial." Donors did not immediately react, but Heather Ryan, monitor of the Khmer Rouge tribunal for the Open Society Justice Initiative, says Tolbert's "leadership" will be a welcome addition at a time when the ECCC faces "pressing issues."

Support among Cambodians for the trials always has been mixed, but watching the defendants on TV is popular. Plus, more than a third of Cambodian's population is under age 15, and the younger generation knows little to nothing about the Khmer Rouge era, which is considered by the current regime to be too politically controversial to be taught in schools. Court supporters say the trials will set the historical record straight.

Susan Postlewaite is an international business writer based in Phnom Penh.

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Calling all our Compatriots to Join - SRP

Calling all our Compatriots to Join
the Mass Demonstration Organized by SRP Members of Parliament
to Demand that the Government Lower the Prices of Merchandises
or Provide Salary Increases for Civil Servants and Factory Workers
Commensurate with the Prices of Goods

The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) is organizing a mass demonstration in Phnom Penh on Sunday, April 6, 2008, to demand that the government lower the prices of merchandises or provide salary increases for civil servants, factory workers and all employees commensurate with the prices of goods.

Over the past few months, the prices of goods have been soaring, in particular for gasoline, rice, meat, fish, vegetables and all kinds of foodstuffs. For example, currently, the price of gasoline has increased to almost 5,000 riels per liter and the price of rice is close to 4,000 riels per kilo.

The increase in the prices of goods is caused by several factors. Some of these factors are related to the situation on the international markets, whereas others are related to ineptitude in the economic management of our country. It is a fact that the prices of goods have increased in neighboring countries, but these increases are minimal compared to the rate of inflation in our country where the prices of goods have increased from twofold to threefold (100% to 200%) over a one-year period.

The sharp increase in the prices of goods in Cambodia is due to corruption and incompetence on the part of the government.

Corruption is behind the heavy tax burden on the population (in particular for gasoline), but the bulk of the taxes collected does not go to the state coffer, instead, it goes in to fill the pockets of corrupt government officials. Corruption is also behind commercial monopolies in various sectors of the economy because a number of cunning merchants and dishonest companies pay bribes to government officials in order to obtain those monopolies so that they can curtail competition and increase the price of goods and services as they please. Meanwhile, the inept government is unable to manage the economy properly and causes the riel (our national currency) to weaken vis-à-vis neighboring countries' currencies, which is another cause for the sharp inflation in Cambodia.

When Sam Rainsy was the Minister of Economy and Finance between 1993 and 1994, the prices of goods on the market were low and stable. At that time, the price of one liter of gasoline was only 600 riels, and one kilo of rice cost only 600 riels. The riel was much stronger (2,500 riels to the US dollar), which helped curb inflation.

In order to reduce the prices of goods on the market right now, the SRP demands that the government adopt the following measures:

1- Lower taxes on gasoline from the current 1,200 riels per liter to 500 riels per liter, and lower the profit margin made by gasoline distributors from 700 riels to 400 riels per liter. These two measures alone will lower the overall price of gasoline by 1,000 riels per liter, and they will bring down the price of gasoline to be in par with prices in neighboring countries. This is a necessary condition to stop the illegal smuggling of gasoline.

2- End the commercial monopolies granted to a number of cunning merchants and dishonest companies which allow them to increase the prices of goods as they please because of the lack of effective competition. This situation is possible because of the protection provided to these cunning merchants and dishonest companies by corrupt government officials.

3- Ensure an adequate economic, financial and monetary policy so as to preserve the stability of the riel and to prevent it from depreciating against neighboring countries' currencies such as the Thai Bath.

4- Control the printing of bank notes so as to avoid issuing paper money in an irresponsible and disorderly manner. Ensure that any increase in the money supply match with actual economic growth and the level of foreign reserves owned by Cambodia. If the government continues to inflate the money supply by secretly printing bank notes, especially for political reasons (to buy votes before the upcoming elections), the riel will continue to depreciate and inflation will continue to accelerate.

5- Implement land reform by distributing unused state-owned lands to landless farmers or those who do not have enough land to live on, so as to increase agricultural production nationwide. Rice production in particular will be increased to a maximum in order to meet demand and to lower the price of this staple on the market. For the tens of thousands of hectares of lands grabbed or stolen from the State or from the people by corrupt government officials and cunning businessmen, they must be returned back to the people so that Cambodian farmers can effectively plant crops needed to counter inflation.

If the government is unwilling or unable to implement the five above-described measures to lower the prices of goods, then it must increase the salaries of civil servants, teachers, policemen and soldiers, as well as factory workers and all employees at a rate that is commensurate with the rate of inflation. For example, if the prices of goods double, salaries must also be doubled. Otherwise, the people's living conditions will undeniably deteriorate and the government will have to take the responsibility for this deterioration in the people's living conditions.


The 24 SRP Members of Parliament
For more information please call 092 854 053 or 012 858 857 or 012 731 111

Letter from SRP's PM

in Khmer Version

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

People Power Can Change Cambodia

Guest Commentary
Published: March 31, 2008
Source: United Press International

CRANSTON CITY, R.I., United States, The ruling party of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, in another politically motivated ploy to weaken rivals prior to national elections in July, arrested Tuot Saron of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party on March 18. He is now awaiting trial on trumped-up charges.

The authorities were planning to arrest at least two other party officials, whom they accused of intimidating and mistreating members of their own party who want to defect to the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Rights watchdog Human Rights Watch said that such dubious arrests of opposition officials months ahead of an election "should set alarm bells ringing." Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said, "This divide-and-conquer strategy is a well-known tactic of Prime Minister Hun Sen to subdue his opponents." He said human rights had been violated in every election cycle in Cambodia.

The only way Cambodians can break Hun Sen's divide-and-rule plan is to unite and launch a People Power initiative. The term typically refers to the popular protest movements in the Philippines that led to the ouster of two presidents, most famously Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Such a movement should unite all opposition parties and the people of Cambodia to end Hun Sen's authoritarian rule.

People Power is also a social movement that could challenge Cambodia's Constitution and seek greater freedoms and rights for its people. Such collective and united efforts would not only give opposition parties the power to fight the current communist rule, but also the strength to denounce any government that comes to power and fails to act on its election promises of creating social harmony and looking out for the people's welfare.

In the past, Hun Sen has rejected People Power as a possibility. However, the ability of monks to vote is a real concern to the ruling party. Monks form an integral part of Cambodia's social community. They influence the faith and political perceptions of the people, 95 percent of whom are Buddhist.

Holding elections is a good thing, but most government atrocities and human rights violations occur after the elections are over. People Power can police the actions of any party that comes to power. In the current scenario, the legislative and executive branches of the government are controlled by the ruling Cambodian People's Party, which is averse to People Power. There is growing concern within the party that a mass protest movement could arise and depose Hun Sen.

Cambodia's veneer of political pluralism grew thinner in 2007. Last year saw the recurring pillage of Cambodian people's land and other natural resources and the jailing of government critics, independent media, and political dissenters, all under the pretext that the groups were attempting to weaken civil society. The Cambodian authorities have never conducted any serious investigations into these matters. Instead, Hun Sen has continued to arrest officials from opposition parties that voice dissent and organizers who stage demonstrations.

Politics in Cambodia have never fully recovered from the events of 1997. On March 30 that year, a grisly grenade attack at an opposition party rally led by former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy left 16 dead and more than 150 injured. In July of the same year a coup -- described by Cambodians as an executive usurpation of power by Hun Sen against Prince Norodom Ranariddh -- cost hundreds of lives. What remained after the coup was a ruthless pattern of extrajudicial executions aimed at rooting out Ranariddh loyalists. General Ho Sok was fatally shot -- presumed executed within the perimeter of the Interior Ministry building. After elections in 1998, Hun Sen presumably ordered his bodyguards and special police force to open fire on over 10,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the National Assembly.

From 1992 until 2006, almost 4,000 activists and supporters of the FUNCINPEC party -- National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia -- Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, Sam Rainsy Party, and other small parties have been killed. At least 130 families have sought refuge in other countries, while 56 families still await political asylum in sympathetic countries elsewhere.

In 2007, in Preah Vihea province, 317 innocent families were evicted and their houses burned. In Phnom Penh, Chhruoy Changva, and Tonle Basac, military police officers arrested, razed, and burned houses displacing thousands of families. The officers claimed that the land belonged to private companies that would utilize it for public projects. Later, thousands of displaced families were relocated -- or rather dumped at sites outside the capital. These sites lacked drinking water and proper sanitation facilities.

Authorities in Phnom Penh and Battambang province seized all 2,000 copies of the inaugural issue of the monthly "Free Press Magazine" when it was distributed on Nov. 2, 2007. Fearing arrest, the magazine's editor-in-chief, Lem Piseth, and distribution director, Heu Chantha, have been in hiding, according to the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

Hun Sen has been exemplary in demonstrating how a dictator should cope with the West. He has allowed the development of opposition parties, but murdered their activists. He has allowed opposition figures to emerge, but has not attempted to successfully co-opt them into his regime. He has allowed unions and human rights groups to exist, but prominent individuals within those groups have been killed. When critics or opposition parties increase their efforts to organize rallies and programs for the poor and victims of abuse, political oppression escalates as the elite dig in to defend their interests.

People Power is a challenge, not only to the ruling party but also for the people of Cambodia if they hope to change the leadership and the regime. It is time for Cambodians to conduct a countrywide survey on whether they want to keep the monarchy or become a republic.

Foreign aid, including from the United States, still makes up about 50 percent of Hun Sen's budget. While Hun Sen claims Cambodia is on its way to democracy, what is really happening is the Vietnamization of the country. It's a wake-up call for all Cambodians to gear up for People Power.


(Sourn Serey Ratha is chief of mission of the Action Committee for Justice and Equity for Cambodians Overseas, based in Rhode Island, United States. He was born to a farmer's family in Cambodia, earned B.A degrees in law and sociology in Phnom Penh and an M.A. in international policy from Mara University of Technology in Malaysia. He has been a social activist for his country on the national and international levels since 1997. ©Copyright Sourn Serey Ratha.)

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Cambodia: Infamous Grenade Attack Still Unpunished

Sam Rainsy following the grenade attack

A wounded Chea Vichea (L) sitting next to Sam Rainsy following the attack

Scene of the carnage following the grenade attack on 30 March 1997
FBI Should Revive Probe of Alleged Perpetrators Promoted by Hun Sen
Source: Human Rights Watch - http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/03/30/cambod18404.htm

(New York, March 30, 2008) – The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) should reopen its long-stalled investigation into the grisly grenade attack on an opposition party rally in Phnom Penh 11 years ago that left at least 16 dead and more than 150 injured, Human Rights Watch said today. The FBI investigation, which made significant progress in 1997, has been effectively abandoned.

On March 30, 1997, a crowd of approximately 200 supporters of the opposition Khmer Nation Party (KNP), led by former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy, gathered in a park across the street from the National Assembly to denounce the judiciary’s corruption and lack of independence. In a well-planned attack, four grenades were thrown into the crowd, killing protesters and bystanders, including children, and tearing limbs off street vendors. The grenade attack made headlines and provoked outrage around the world. On June 29, 1997, the Washington Post wrote:

"In a classified report that could pose some awkward problems for U.S. policymakers, the FBI tentatively has pinned responsibility for the blasts, and the subsequent interference, on personal bodyguard forces employed by Hun Sen, one of Cambodia’s two prime ministers, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with its contents. The preliminary report was based on a two-month investigation by FBI agents sent here under a federal law giving the bureau jurisdiction whenever a U.S. citizen is injured by terrorism. ... The bureau says its investigation is continuing, but the agents involved reportedly have complained that additional informants here are too frightened to come forward."

"The FBI was close to solving the case when its lead investigator was suddenly ordered out of the country by the US ambassador, Kenneth Quinn," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The FBI has damning evidence in its files that suggests that Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the attack, but it has refused to fully cooperate with congressional inquiries or follow through on its initial investigation. Instead of trying to protect US relations with Cambodia, it should now finish what it started."

The FBI investigated the attack because Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured in the blast, which the United States at the time deemed to be an "act of terrorism." Abney had to be evacuated to Singapore to treat shrapnel wounds in his hip.

Instead of launching a serious investigation, then co-Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the demonstration’s organizers should be arrested and instructed police not to allow them to leave the country. (To read an Agence France-Presse account published at the time, please visit: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/03/28/cambod13086.htm).

On the day of the attack, Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit, Brigade-70 (B-70), was, for the first time, deployed at a demonstration. Photographs show them in full riot gear. The police, which had in the past maintained a high-profile presence at opposition demonstrations to discourage public participation, had an unusually low profile on that day. Officers were grouped around the corner from the park, having been ordered to stay away from the park itself. Also for the first time, the KNP had received official permission from both the Ministry of the Interior and the Phnom Penh municipality to hold a demonstration, fuelling speculation that the demonstration was authorized so it could be attacked.

Numerous eyewitnesses reported that the persons who had thrown the grenades were seen running toward Hun Sen’s bodyguards, who were deployed in a line at the west end of the park near the guarded residential compound containing the homes of many senior Cambodia People’s Party leaders. Witnesses told United Nations and FBI investigators that the bodyguard line opened to allow the grenade-throwers to escape into the compound. Meanwhile, people in the crowd pursuing the grenade-throwers were stopped by the bodyguards at gunpoint and told they would be shot if they did not retreat.

"This brazen attack, carried out in broad daylight, ingrained impunity more than any other single act in recent Cambodian history," said Adams. "But that appears to have been one of its purposes – to send the message that opposition supporters can be murdered without ever facing justice."

In a June 1997 interview with the Phnom Penh Post, Hing Bun Heang, deputy commander of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and operationally in charge of the bodyguards at the park on March 30, 1997, threatened to kill journalists who alleged that Hun Sen’s bodyguards were involved. Hing Bun Heang has since been promoted as deputy director of Hun Sen’s cabinet and, in September 2006, appointed as supreme consultant to Cambodia’s Senior Monk Assembly and assistant to Supreme Patriachs Tep Vong and Bou Kry.

The bodyguard unit B-70 remains notorious in Cambodia for violence, corruption, and the impunity it enjoys as the de facto private army of Hun Sen. According to a 2007 report by the nongovernmental organization Global Witness, "The elite Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 unit makes between US$2 million and US$2.5 million per year through transporting illegally logged timber and smuggled goods. A large slice of the profits generated through these activities goes to Lieutenant General Hing Bun Heang, commander of the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit."

In one notorious case in 2006, two soldiers from B-70 shot a Phnom Penh beer promotion girl in the foot for being too slow to bring them ice. They were arrested by military police, but released hours later by their commander. A representative of the commander said the victim would be paid $500 compensation by B-70, but no criminal investigation or prosecution ensued.

"Instead of investigating the senior officer in charge of the bodyguard unit implicated in the 1997 grenade attack and who threatened to kill journalists reporting on it, Hun Sen has promoted him,” said Adams. “Apparently, Hun Sen considers such a person qualified for a senior position in the country’s official Buddhist hierarchy."

Given the serious and credible allegations of the involvement of the Cambodian military in the grenade attack, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the United States has increased military assistance and training to the Cambodian military before it completed its investigation into the 1997 attack.

Human Rights Watch called on the US to ensure that it is not providing any assistance or training to current or former members of B-70 or other Cambodian special military units with records of human rights abuse. In an effort to solidify counterterrorism cooperation, the FBI in 2006 awarded a medal to the Cambodian Chief of National Police Hok Lundy for his support in the US "global war on terror." Hok Lundy was chief of the national police at the time of the grenade attack and has long been linked to political violence.

"No credible explanation has ever been offered for the deployment or behavior of Hun Sen’s bodyguards on March 30, 1997," said Adams. "Their actions may reach the highest levels of the Cambodian government, yet the FBI investigation has been dropped. The fact that the US is providing military assistance instead of investigating the grenade attack shows that it is effectively complicit with the Cambodian government in abandoning any hope for justice for the victims of this horrific attack."

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Tributes Flow for 'Killing Field' Hero Dith Pran

New York Times photographer Dith Pran, who survived the Cambodian 'killing fields', on assignment in 2006 (file photo) (AFP/Getty Images: Michael Nagle)

Tributes flow for 'killing field' hero Dith Pran
By Paula Kruger
Source from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/03/31/2203854.htm

His life's story was brought to the world in the award-winning film The Killing Fields, about the brutal Cambodian regime of the Khmer Rouge.

Today, friends and colleagues are paying tribute to photojournalist Dith Pran, who died last night in a New Jersey hospital.

Among those praising his courage and integrity is the former New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg, who still describes Mr Pran as his brother and credits him with saving his life during the Cambodian civil war.

Mr Schanberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was driving from New York to New Jersey to be with the family of Mr Pran when he spoke to The World Today.

It was Mr Schanberg's New York Times article "The Death and Life of Dith Pran" that inspired the award-winning film The Killing Fields.

Theirs has been a gripping relationship in both film and real life.

Mr Schanberg says he hired Dith Pran in 1972 as a translator and journalist during the confusion of Cambodia's civil strife.

"He was maybe the smartest reporter that I ever met. He was terrific guy. I mean, he was very, very special and he was also very playful and funny when we were at our free times, and he had this smile," Mr Schanberg said.

"You've probably seen some pictures with his smile. He had a smile that would light up a skyscraper."

But Mr Schanberg said it did not surprise him that Mr Pran was a happy person, despite the scars.

"It seemed appropriate with him because he was taking everything seriously," he said.

"He was just showing that you had to live and move on and do ordinary things in the middle of chaos and insanity - which was the war - and it was a good lesson."

Surviving the Khmer Rouge

Mr Schanberg says his strongest memory of Mr Pran will be the day he saved the lives of three journalists with quick-thinking, fast-talking and a lot of bravado.

Mr Pran managed to get them into the safety of the French embassy in Phnom Penh.

But when the foreign journalists were ordered to leave the country, Mr Pran was exiled to the 'killing fields', the forced labour camps in the Cambodian countryside where he endured four years of starvation and torture.

He eventually managed to escape and made his way to a refugee camp on the border with Thailand. It was there that Mr Schanberg was finally reunited with his friend.

"Pran came around the corner from the long-house and he was wobbling because his legs were weakened," Mr Schanberg said.

"He had suffered from malnutrition and everything. And he had a gap in his teeth. He was really wobbling and he saw me and then he started to run on those wobbly feet.

"Finally, I started to run and he threw himself - just as you saw in the movie - they did that just exactly as it happened.

"He threw his legs around me and we just held each other for what seemed like many minutes and we had a - I asked him if he could forgive me and that's in the film too.

"He just said right away, he said, 'nothing to forgive, nothing to forgive'. We were brothers in Cambodia and we were now brothers again out and that's the way we will stay.

Mr Pran moved to the United States and began working with the New York Times as a photojournalist in 1980.

He was still working with them last year when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

In an interview with the newspaper recorded earlier this month, Mr Pran describes how he wants to be remembered.

"My job want to remember that please, everybody must stop the killing field," he said.

"One time is too many. If they can do that for me, my spirit will be happy."

Mr Pran will be cremated at a Buddhist ceremony in New Jersey later this week.

--> Website: http://www.dithpran.org/

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