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Friday, February 27, 2009

Sam Rainsy Lost his Parliamentary Immunity

Sam Rainsy Lost his Parliamentary Immunity

26 Feb 2009
By Leang Delux (Cambodge Soir Hebdo )

He challenges the decision of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly to lift his parliamentary immunity, and plans to write to the king asking him to pardon.

The Standing Committee of the National Assembly has shown a remarkable speed in deciding, Thursday 26 February, to lift the parliamentary immunity of Sam Rainsy, at the request of the Minister of Justice, Hang Vong Ratana. The leader of the opposition becomes a citizen like any other, although it has been condemned by the National Electoral Committee, to pay a fine of 10 million riels (U.S. $ 2 400), for having criticized the leaders of the PPC, during the legislative July 2008.

Chheang Vun, PPC member, member of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, confirmed that decision. "Under the Constitution, during the vacancy of the National Assembly, the Standing Committee can make that decision and inform the House plenary session," he said to "Cambodge Soir Hebdo." However, Article 80 of the Constitution provides an additional step: "The decision of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly must be submitted at the next plenary session for adoption by a majority of two thirds of its members. "

The Standing Committee plans to write to the Minister of Justice informing him of its decision to lift the immunity of Sam Rainsy.

Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition denies: "I have not lost my immunity because the Assembly has not yet decided in plenary session, the Standing Committee has no right to take this decision. "

Sam Rainsy criticized the process: "I take a while because I called the Constitutional Council to examine whether decisions condemning me are in accordance with the Constitution," he says.
The President of the PSR account out of this impasse by a spin: "I will write to the king gracie for me and I will pay 10 million riels to the Kanta Bopha Hospital. "

In 2005, Sam Rainsy had already lost his parliamentary immunity after defaming Norodom Ranariddh

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Monday, February 23, 2009

One big happy family in Cambodia

One big happy family in Cambodia

By Bertil Lintner (Asia Times)

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's rough-and-tumble politics have long been bloody, marred by frequent political assassinations and violence. But never before have they been quite so blood-linked.

The English-language fortnightly Phnom Penh Post published without comment in late February a family tree it had compiled, revealing how the top leaders of the ruling Cambodia People's Party (CPP) have become more intimate through an old-fashioned Cambodian custom: arranged marriage. And the growing family ties run all the way to the top of Cambodia's political pyramid, Prime Minister Hun Sen, Southeast Asia's longest-serving leader.

For instance, there is Hun Sen's brother, Hun Neng, currently serving as governor of Kompong Cham, whose daughter, Hun Kimleng, is married to the deputy commissioner of Cambodia's National Police, Neth Savoeun. Meanwhile, Hun Neng's son, Hun Seang Heng, is married to Sok Sopheak, the daughter of Sok Phal, another deputy commissioner of the National Police. Hun Sen's 25-year-old son, Hun Manith, is married to Hok Chendavy, the daughter of Hok Lundy, the National Police commissioner.

Another of the premier's sons, Hun Many, 24, is married to Yim Chay Lin, the daughter of Yim Chay Li, secretary of state for rural development. One of Hun Sen's daughters, Hun Mali, 23, meanwhile, is married to Sok Puthyvuth, the son of Sok An, Hun Sen's right-hand man and minister of the Council of Ministers. The friendship between Hun Sen and Sok An dates back to the early 1980s, when Hun Sen was foreign minister and Sok An director of the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Now those personal ties run blood deep as in-laws.

And that's just a sampling of the connections at the highest echelons. Heng Samrin, who was Cambodia's head of state from the Vietnamese invasion in January 1979 to the United Nations intervention in 1991, and now serves as president of the National Assembly and honorary CPP president, has a daughter named Heng Sam An, who is married to Pen Kosal, an adviser to Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister and minister of the interior - as well as brother-in-law of Senate and CPP president Chea Sim.

Heng Samrin's adviser, Cham Nimol, is the daughter of Cham Prasidh, minister of commerce. Another of Cham Pradish's daughters, Cham Krasna, is engaged to Sok Sokann, another of minister Sok An's sons. Sar Kheng's son, Sar Sokha, meanwhile, is married to Ke Sunsophy, daughter of Ke Kim Yan, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. And Hun Sen's wife, Bun Ramy, currently serves as president of the Cambodian Red Cross, while its second vice president, Theng Ay Anny, aka Sok An Anny, is Sok An's wife.

Family traditions
There has been no official reaction to the Phnom Penh Post's revealing study. Intermarriage among members of the ruling political and business elites is not uncommon in Asia.

In neighboring Thailand, Field Marshal Phin Choonhavan's son, Chatichai Choonhavan, became prime minister of Thailand, while his daughter, Khun Ying Udomlak married Phao Sriyanond, director general of the Thai police. Another high-ranking Thai army officer, Thanom Kittikachorn, was the brother-in-law of fellow military dictator Praphas Charusathien, while his son, Narong Kittikachorn, also became a military strongman, while his sister Songsuda married Suvit Yodmani, who has served with several Thai governments.

Sino-Thai tycoons are known to have arranged their children's marriages to members of other top business families to progress their commercial interests. But in Cambodia's case, where many of the political elite were wiped out during Khmer Rouge-led purges between 1975 and 1979, the number of political marriages is extraordinary. And these new family ties between the children of ministers and top officials potentially set the stage for the CPP's grip on power to continue for generations.

Significantly, the CPP's family connection is emerging simultaneously with a waning of the royal family's influence over national politics. Ever since Hun Sen and his inner circle of friends and advisers ousted former prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh in a 1997 coup, the royalist Funcinpec party's political fortunes have waned.

Ranariddh was forced into exile after the bloody putsch that killed many of his party members, but later returned to Cambodia to become president of the National Assembly after inconclusive general elections in 2003, when the CPP was unable to garner enough votes to form a one-party government and after much squabbling joined with Funcinpec in a wobbly coalition.

One of the sons of former king Norodom Sihanouk and half-brother of the present monarch, Sihamoni, Ranariddh resigned that post last March and subsequently left the country again. While he was away, he was dismissed as co-chairman of the Council for the Development of Cambodia as well as the National Olympic Committee. He later returned to Cambodia - and was ousted as president of Funcinpec, the main opposition party, amid an internal power struggle in October that many political analysts believe Hun Sen had a hand in.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, several of Funcinpec's original leaders were also related. Ranariddh's uncle and former king Norodom Sihanouk's younger half-brother, Norodom Sirivudh, served as foreign minister in a Funcinpec-led government in 1993. Ranariddh's half-brother, Norodom Chakrapong, meanwhile, helped found Funcinpec but later defected to the CPP. Their half-sister and Sihanouk's eldest child, Norodom Bopha Devi, has served as minister of information and culture, while her latest consort, Khek Vandy, was elected to the National Assembly on a Funcinpec list in 1998.

But Funcinpec's family pride has waned considerably since it emerged as the biggest party in the UN-supervised elections in May 1993, when it captured 45% of the popular vote and outpaced the CPP, which came in a close second with 38%. Many political observers think Ranariddh's recent ouster from Funcinpec may represent his last political gasp.

His former Funcinpec colleagues recently sued him on allegations that he embezzled US$3.6 million from the sale of the party's headquarters last August. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the prince guilty and sentenced him - in absentia - to 18 years in prison. Ranariddh had recently set up a new party, aptly named the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP).

Funcinpec, the NRP and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party will be among 10 different political parties standing against the CPP juggernaut in upcoming commune council elections, which are scheduled for April 1 and widely viewed as a bellwether indicator for next year's general elections.

It may well be an April Fool's election, with the opposition fractured and vulnerable and the CPP allegedly pursuing a campaign of violence and intimidation against opposition candidates and their supporters in rural areas. Khieu Kanharith, CPP minister of information, predicted on February 22 that his party would win about 97% or 98% of the positions in the commune councils, and 95% of the vote in the general elections next year. That may well be the case, as Cambodia is fast morphing into a one-party state dominated by the CPP.

The Phnom Penh Post in its February 9 edition quoted a foreign diplomat as saying: "The CPP controls the government, the National Assembly, the Senate, 99% of the village chiefs, the provincial governments. Their influence goes through the judiciary, through the police ... Practically everything is controlled by one party."

That assessment would appear to jibe with 55-year-old Hun Sen's January 9 pronouncement that he does not intend to stand down from the premiership until he is at least 90 years old. By then, a third generation of CPP family-tied politicians and officials, if everything goes according to the apparent plan, will just be coming of political age.

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review, where he reported frequently on Cambodian politics and economics. He is currently a writer with Asia-Pacific Media Services.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Party factionalism looms behind Ke Kim Yan sacking

Party factionalism looms behind Ke Kim Yan sacking: observers

Kem Sokha, right, and Sam Rainsy at a press conference Wednesday.

Written by SEBASTIAN STRANGIO and THET SAMBATH (Phnom Penh Post)
Thursday, 19 February 2009

Analysts say allegations the deposed army chief was involved in shady land deals are being used to whitewash a purge of the military in line with decades-old internal party disputes

OVERWHELMING success in last year's national election set the stage for a reopening of long-standing factional disputes in the ruling Cambodian People's Party, culminating in the removal of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander-in-Chief General Ke Kim Yan last month, according to some political observers.

According to a leaked document from a January 29 meeting of the Council of Ministers, Ke Kim Yan's removal - which also saw the sacking of military police Deputy Commander General Chhin Chanpor - was "due to reforms in the military based on job performances" and "due to him using his military position to profit from land deals".

But political analysts and military sources say such pretexts are being used to paper over significant power shifts in the ruling party.

"None of these explanations can be taken at face value," said Carlyle A Thayer, a political science professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Sydney.

"The government says Ke Kim Yan's removal was a normal reshuffle, but this is belied by allegations he was involved in shady land deals and was not effective in support of [RCAF] troops during the border dispute with Thailand."

Cold War rivalries
Thayer said that internal disputes within the CPP - pitting one group loyal to Hun Sen against another loyal to party President Chea Sim - have plagued the party on and off for years, but that until recently the two factions had reached a stable modus vivendi.

However, with the defeat of its long-time foe Funcinpec at last year's national election, the party has begun to rearrange itself along the predominant factional fault lines.

"Hun Sen is set for another five years. He faces the problem of what to do with so many CPP deputies who have time on their hands, [which is] fertile ground for a revival of intense factionalism within the CPP," he said.

In the run-up to July's elections, historian David Chandler told the Post that an overwhelming victory of the CPP would be a double-edged sword for the ruling party, since it would "no longer [have] to look over its shoulder at opponents", and could be beset by "over-confidence".

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said it was possible that increased power had triggered fresh internal disputes but that it was "too early to say" how success would affect the CPP.


But the trigger for the shake-up, according to Thayer, was the death of National Police chief Hok Lundy in a helicopter crash in November, which destabilised the status quo by diluting the power of the police force - a long-time bastion of support for Hun Sen.

"Hok Lundy's death removed one of Hun Sen's staunch loyalists. His passing means that the police may not be as strong a counterfoil to the military as it once was," he said.

"In this context, Hun Sen's move to capture the leadership of the military may be seen as an effort to gain control of another base of power within the political system."

Meanwhile, other observers said the emphasis on Ke Kim Yan's alleged land dealings was merely a way of detracting from the political motivations behind his removal.

Jacques Bakaert, a Belgian journalist who covered Cambodia during the 1990s, said the timing of the removal was a chance for the prime minister's faction to reassert control over the armed forces - previously dominated by Chea Sim loyalists - and that land was merely being used as an excuse.

"It was probably convenient, given the accusations against him, to get rid of him now when there are continuous questions about land grabbing," he said.

One RCAF general, who fought with the anti-Pol Pot resistance in the late 1970s but declined to give his name, told the Post that the removal of Ke Kim Yan for owning land was hypocritical, since "many" military commanders and government officials were involved in the land business.

"It is not right to accuse him alone of being involved in the land business. They have legal and illegal land ... [so] why are they still at the top?" the source said.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann agreed, saying that there were many - especially those "loyal to high-ranking officials" - who could potentially be charged with similar offences.

"This is an internal conflict in the CPP. When they are not happy with somebody in the party, they always accuse them of doing the wrong thing," he said. "The law should apply to everybody, not only those who oppose the ruling party."

Ke Kim Yan declined to comment when contacted Monday. Government officials, however, have consistently played down talks that the CPP is beset by factionalism.

Speaking at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs February 6, Prime Minister Hun Sen denied opposition claims of a split in the CPP, saying that "it is the right of the premier to manage and control the military, police and other public administration".
Bun Seng, RCAF commander of Military Region 5, also told the Post that it was not up to him to judge the reasons behind Ke Kim Yan's removal.

"Right or wrong is up to the top leaders to decide," he said.

Purging the military
What is certain, however, is that the replacement of Ke Kim Yan and the appointment of seven new deputy commanders-in-chief, has consolidated the prime minister's control over the upper echelons of the armed forces.

General Pol Saroeun, the new army head, has been a staunch Hun Sen loyalist since he took part in the eastern zone-led revolt against Pol Pot in 1978.

In the mid-1980s, he was appointed party secretary of Takeo Province, where he became an early supporter of Hun Sen's economic reforms and supported the removal of Heng Samrin as party leader.

The other new appointees - including Generals Chea Dara, Mol Roeu, Meas Sophea, Hing Bun Heang, Kun Kim, Ung Samkhan and Sao Sokha - are also known for their loyalty to Hun Sen.

Kun Kim in particular has long stood in the wings, acting in Ke Kim Yan's absence and carrying out personal orders from the premier.

A Phnom Penh source who declined to be named said that the conflicts between Ke Kim Yan and the prime minister began in 1997, during that year's fighting between army factions loyal to the CPP and Funcinpec.

"At that time Hun Sen wanted to use the national military to [fight] Funcinpec, but Ke Kim Yan refused. He didn't think it was the right thing to do," said the source, adding that Ke Kim Yan was "marked" from that point on by his refusal to toe Hun Sen's line.

Kun Kim, on the other hand, played an active role in the suppression of the royalists.

Subsequently, when the prime minister appointed Kun Kim to the RCAF general staff in 1999, observers cast it as a move by the prime minister to tighten his grip on the army, and in an October 2005 speech, Hun Sen pledged to replace Ke Kim Yan with Kun Kim if he did not follow orders to repress a future coup attempt.

"I have been patient for too long.... The armed forces are in my hands," the premier said.
"If Ke Kim Yan does not do it, I will use Kun Kim. Ke Kim Yan has to do it. If not he will be removed."
But Thayer said that the military leadership had not been definitively settled and that more upheavals could yet be in store.

"For the moment General Pol Saroeun is Hun Sen's stalking horse, [but] General Kun Kim could prove tomorrow's man," he said. But he added that the appointment of Meas Sophea, another Hun Sen loyalist, indicates that the PM is "keeping his options open".

"Both men will have to demonstrate their continued loyalty to Hun Sen," he said.

In the meantime, RCAF sources say the removal of Ke Kim Yan - a genuinely popular figure amongst soldiers - was still rippling through the military, where many former colleagues feared removal from their own posts.
"We are sorry for him because we have fought together since the 1980s," the anonymous general said.

"Most of the soldiers today still support Ke Kim Yan in their hearts. But what can we do for him? No one dares to comment about him because they are worried of removal and demotion. One was our commander and one is still our prime minister, so we all have to shut up."

Court denies KE KIM YAN land investigations

STUNG Treng provincial court says it is yet to receive requests to open investigations into land owned by General Ke Kim Yan, despite unconfirmed reports the former army chief owns thousands of hectares in the province. A leaked report from a January 29 meeting of the Council of Ministers revealed Ke Kim Yan had been removed from his post in part for “using his military position to profit from land deals”, recommending he be investigated for land investments in Phnom Penh, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear. But police and court officials denied local media reports that they had been ordered to launch inquiries.

"I am surprised to hear your question that officials and courts in the province are working to investigate land deals involving Ke Kim Yan," said court director Sor Savuth. “I did not get any requests… to investigate this case.” Ke Kim Yan is listed as an advisor on the website of YLP Group Co Ltd, which is developing the Grand Phnom Penh International City satellite as a joint venture with Indonesian firm Ciputra. YLP Group, headed by Ke Kim Yan’s wife Mao Malay, also has planned developments in Preah Sihanouk and Kandal provinces.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Khmer Rouge Trial Opens

Khmer Rouge Trial Opens In Cambodia

February 17, 2009
By Sopheng Cheang and Susan Postlewaite (AP)

Cambodian visitors watch portraits of victims displayed in the infamous Tuol sleng Khmer Rouge prison, also known as S21, where thousands of Cambodian died during the brutal 1975-79 regime, on February 16, 2009 in Phnom Penh.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The chief of a prison where some 16,000 men, women and children were tortured before being killed appeared Tuesday before Cambodia's genocide tribunal in its first trial over the Khmer Rouge reign of terror more than three decades ago.

Kaing Guek Eav _ better known as Duch _ is charged with crimes against humanity and is the first of five defendants scheduled for long-delayed trials by the U.N.-assisted court.

They were among a close-knit, ultra-communist clique that turned Cambodia into a vast slave labor camp and charnel house in which 1.7 million or more died of starvation, disease and execution.

Duch, who headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh for the Khmer Rouge, is the only defendant to have expressed remorse for his actions, and on Tuesday he again voiced regret for what he did and sought forgiveness.

"Duch acknowledges the facts he's being charged with," his French lawyer Francois Roux, said at a press briefing after Tuesday's court session. "Duch wishes to ask forgiveness from the victims but also from the Cambodian people. He will do so publicly. This is the very least he owes the victims."

This week's hearing establishes the schedule for the trial, which is expected to begin in late March. The prosecution said it will present 33 witnesses over 40 days, while the defense said it seeks to have 13 witnesses testify over 4 1/2 days.

Duch's professed sentiments have no direct legal ramifications, and seem unlikely to change public attitudes.

"It is not only me wanting justice today. All Cambodian people have been waiting for 30 years now," said Vann Nath, one of less than 20 survivors of S-21, who attended the hearing in a courtroom packed with some 500 people. "I look at Duch today and he seems like an old, very gentle man. It was much different 30 years ago."

Vann Nath, who survived by painting and sculpting portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, described Duch as a "very cruel man."

Duch, 66, is accused of committing or abetting a range of crimes including murder, torture and rape at S-21 prison _ formerly a school _ where suspected enemies of the Khmer Rouge _ men, women and children _ were held and tortured, before being executed.

"This first hearing represents the realization of significant efforts to establish a fair and independent tribunal to try those in leadership positions and those most responsible for violations of Cambodian and international law," presiding judge Nil Nonn told the chamber.

But the tribunal has drawn sharp criticism.

Its snail-slow proceedings have been plagued by political interference from the Cambodian government, allegations of bias and corruption, lack of funding and bickering between Cambodian and international lawyers.

Some observers believe Prime Minister Hun Sen _ a former Khmer Rouge officer himself _ is controlling the tribunal's scope by directing the decisions of the Cambodian prosecutors and judges.

Duch has made no formal confession. However, unlike the other four defendants, he "admitted or acknowledged" in some of the 21 interviews by investigating judges that many of the crimes occurred at his prison, according to the indictment from court judges.

Duch has been variously described by those who knew him as "very gentle and kind" and a "monster."

"Duch necessarily decided how long a prisoner would live, since he ordered their execution based on a personal determination of whether a prisoner had fully confessed" to being an enemy of the regime, the tribunal said in an indictment in August.

In one mass execution, he gave his men a "kill them all" order to dispose of a group of prisoners, indictment said. On another list of 29 prisoners, he told his henchmen to "interrogate four persons, kill the rest."

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch disappeared for two decades, living under two other names and converting to Christianity before he was located in northwestern Cambodia by a British journalist in 1999.

Taken to the scene of his alleged crimes last year, he wept and told some of his former victims, "I ask for your forgiveness. I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might."

The trial comes 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, 13 years after the tribunal was first proposed and nearly three years after the court was inaugurated.

Many victims feared that all the Khmer Rouge leaders would die before facing justice, and getting even one of them on trial is seen as a breakthrough. But there are concerns that the process is being politically manipulated and that thousands of killers will escape unpunished.

The Cambodian side in the tribunal has recently turned down recommendations from the international co-prosecutor to try other Khmer Rouge leaders, as many as six according to some reports. This has sparked criticism from human rights groups.

"The tribunal cannot bring justice to the millions of the Khmer Rouge's victims if it tries only a handful of the most notorious individuals, while scores of former Khmer Rouge officials and commanders remain free," the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a release Monday.

Others facing trial are Khieu Samphan, the group's former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs; and Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue.

All four have denied committing crimes.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Chevron Silent on Bribery Allegations

CAMBODIA: Chevron Silent on Bribery Allegations

By Marwaan Macan-Markar (IPS)

BANGKOK, Feb 6 (IPS) - U.S. energy giant Chevron is under fire for failing to disclose the amount of money it allegedly paid to secure rights to drill for offshore oil in corruption-ridden Cambodia.

‘’It is yet to respond to our detailed questions in a letter written to the company in October 2008,’’ says Gavin Hayman, campaigns director for Global Witness (GW), a London-based anti-corruption watchdog. ‘’It is not in favour of supplying information about what it pays foreign governments to secure rights for oil exploration.’’

Chevron’s attitude towards disclosure ‘’will be telling,’’ he explained in an interview, since such revelations will help measure the scale of ‘’under the table payments’’ involved in a country where a small and powerful elite has ‘’captured the country’s emerging oil and mineral sectors’’ for personal gain.

But disclosure about money paid to access the resource is only one part of the transparency and accountability equation. GW activist insists that the oil companies should also disclose what they would pay Cambodia once the revenue starts flowing.

Hayman made the comments following a launch here this week of a report by GW which warns of a corruption disaster as the South-east Asian country ‘’appears to be on the verge of an oil, gas and minerals windfall.’’

‘’Cambodia today is a country for sale,’’ reveals the 68-page report. ‘’Having made their fortune from logging much of the country’s forests resources, Cambodia’s elite have diversified their commercial interests to encompass other forms of state assets.’’

‘’Financial bonuses paid to secure concessions [for oil and mining] - totalling millions of dollars - do not show up, as far as GW can see, in the 2006 and 2007 revenue reports from the ministry of economy and finance,’’ notes the report, ‘Country for Sale’. ‘’Oil company contracts and information on concession allocations are a closely guarded secret within the CNPA [Cambodian National Petroleum Authority].’’

Yet what is better known is the presence of Chevron among the companies from Australia, China, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States that have been competing to secure rights to explore oil in the six blocks off Cambodia’s western coast.

‘’With the exception of Chevron, the government of Cambodia has not publicly announced the names of those companies to whom it has awarded oil and gas exploration rights,’’ states the report. ‘’Block A was awarded to U.S. oil company Chevron in 2002. Chevron’s activities in Block A are the most advanced of all oil companies currently operating in Cambodia.’’

GW estimates that oil will start flowing in 2011 and peak in 2021. Proceeds range from 174 million US dollars in the first year to 1.7 billion dollars when extraction peaks.

But GW doubts that such income from Cambodia’s natural resources will flow to those who need it most - the country’s millions still mired in poverty following nearly two decades of a bloody conflict and a brutal rule by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

Currently, over 35 percent of Cambodia’s 13.3 million people live in dire conditions, on less than one dollar a day. And U.N. reports have revealed that life expectancy is 58 years, while nearly a third of children under five years are malnourished.

Yet for a small cabal of political, military and economic elite, the period since the 1991 peace accords has been a journey on the road to immense - and ill-gotten - wealth. In 2007, for instance, GW revealed in a report that illegal logging in Cambodia by the elite raked in over 13 million dollars.

Such greed by the elite has not only raised the alarm that Cambodia is on the verge of becoming a kleptocracy, but it has been rated as among the most corrupt countries. In 2007, the global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Cambodia 162nd among 179 countries surveyed for corruption, making it the most corrupt country in Asia after Burma.

The ease with which the powerful few have filled their personal coffers stems from a lack of independent bodies backed by strong laws and resources to curb corruption. ‘’Any state that has weak anti-corruption institutions is not going to have proper level of oversight,’’ says Donald Bowser, head of the Cambodia office of the Mainstreaming Anti-corruption for Equity Project, funded by the development arm of the U.S. government.

‘’There are local concerns about the misuse of the country’s extractive industry for personal gain,’’ Bowser said during a telephone interview from Phnom Penh. ‘’A civil society coalition has been formed to campaign against this form of corruption.’’

But such campaigns face a daunting challenge. The Cambodian government under the grip of an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minster Hun Sen has yet to implement strong anti-corruption measures that have been called for by the country’s foreign donors, who fund nearly half the national budget.

Activists like Hayman of GW also point fingers at international financial institutions like the World Bank for being complicit in the corrupt culture of Cambodia’s rising kleptocrats. ‘’The World Bank is particularly bad,’’ he charges. ‘’They have a bad track record of forgetting civil society to monitor all steps of programmes in Cambodia to ensure accountability.’’

However, the Bank thinks otherwise. ‘’The World Bank shares many of the concerns NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have raised about the government’s management of extractive industry in Cambodia,’’ it said in a statement released to IPS from its Phnom Penh office.

‘’Although the Bank has not been directly involved in extractive industries in Cambodia, our dialogue with the government includes discussion of policy reforms that will help to ensure that any revenue generated through extractive industries benefit the people of Cambodia,’’ it added.

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Corrupt elite threaten Cambodia's development

Corrupt elite threaten Cambodia's development

Gavin Hayman, director of Global Witness
February 6, 2009
ABC Radio Australia

The anti-corruption ngo Global Witness says "a corrupt elite" in Cambodia is taking over the nation's emerging oil and mineral sectors, while international donors turn a blind eye.

In a report titled 'Country for Sale', Global Witness says Cambodia's future is being jeopardised by high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage in the management of public assets. This, it says, threatens Cambodia's potential to wean itself of foreign development aid.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Gavin Hayman, director of Global Witness

Listen to the audio program in English

HAYMAN: We've been working in Cambodia for the last 15 years looking at how illegal logging was being operating in the country and were able to show that it directly benefitted the ruling military and political elite. And our new report has showed that the self same people whose names are in our previous report as being involved in illegal logging have now effectively taken over the mining and also have oversight over the emerging oil industry in the country. And that's disastrous news for Cambodia because the money from oil and mining, which could actually really help Cambodia's development and lift Cambodia's citizens out of poverty, appears to instead be in severe danger of being wasted.

LAM: But you also say that international donors are turning a blind eye. What would you like donor countries to do?

HAYMAN: Well donor countries need to really get the Cambodian government to behave itself. They need to effectively declare a moratorium until there's basic governance and transparency framework in place to actually have oversight over what's going on. At the moment we've discovered that effectively the government doesn't have any way of giving out concessions, apart from patronage. So a particular kind of senators for example in the ruling party appear to have a beneficial possession of the mines, and they also needs to do a proper audit as to exactly how all those concessions be given out and whether they're equal and whether in fact the money is in the national budget. And there's about 60 or 70 different companies operating now, and we've written to all of them, also to ask about their behaviour, and we haven't had many responses back. What we did get was from BHP Billiton, the huge Australian mining company, and they actually told us they paid about a million dollar signature bonus to the government to explore for bauxite near the Vietnamese border. Now we congratulate BHP on being transparent about that. We're worried about the 79 companies that haven't been transparent, but also disturbingly we can't find information about that million dollars in the Cambodian budget. And that's very worrying, so where is this money in Cambodia's financial system? That's very concerning.

LAM: Indeed, it must be quite hard though, to extricate the ruling elite from these lucrative contracts. So what do you think can be done to change this culture, this culture of corruption?

HAYMAN: Well I think at the moment Cambodia's depends on foreign aid for about half its budget, and the donors have a very limited window of opportunity to use that influence on the Cambodian government to get a moratorium in place and a proper audit and future management provisions in place. To actually assure transparency, and that the money actually flows into the national budget and is properly spent. So they've got to use their leverage now and effectively really they shouldn't be lending into corruption and actually compensating a corrupt government that's stealing money that should be spent on development by actually putting taxpayer's money into development projects. So effectively they've got to play hard ball with the Cambodian government and get it to actually be fully transparent.

LAM: And just very briefly, can the Cambodian government itself do more or is the government itself the problem?

HAYMAN: The government itself as currently constituted by the ruling elite is the problem. So, as I said the military and political figures in Cambodia are direct beneficiaries and owners of some of these mines. And they may not actually own it on paper but if you turn up at the gate, which is one of the things we've done, the people guarding the mine they all know who's in power and they'll tell you who's actually in charge and who's the owner. Effectively, the donors have been very soft, some might even say spineless about addressing corruption in Cambodia for the last sort of 14 or 15 years. And to give you an example, Cambodia still hasn't passed an anti-corruption law despite the donors pushing for that for the last 14, 15 years.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Tough choices for America's hungry

Tough choices for America's hungry

By John D. Sutter (CNN)

As Walter Thomas knows, it's hard to look for a job when your stomach is rumbling.

The 52-year-old from Washington, D.C., started skipping meals in early January when his savings account was running dry and his kitchen cabinets were almost empty.

Thomas at first didn't want to turn to the United States' food safety net, the food stamp program, for help.

But after being laid off in July from what seemed like a steady job in sales at a furniture store, Thomas swallowed his pride and applied for the monthly food aid.

"It lets me think, 'OK, well, tomorrow I'll be able to eat. If nothing else, I'll be able to eat,' " he said.

With the national economy in meltdown, more Americans than ever are relying on the federal aid program to keep from going hungry. In October, more than one in 10 people -- about 31 million -- were using the food stamp program to get by, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More recent numbers are not available, but advocates for the poor say the number of those in need of aid probably has increased since then.

Stereotypes associated with food stamps abound, and recipients are often seen as prone to taking handouts, sometimes when they may not be needed.

But the profile of hunger in America is multifaceted, as diverse as the nation itself, especially in these times of economic hardship.

To get a better idea of what it's like to live on a food stamp budget, CNN correspondent Sean Callebs has decided to eat for a month on $176 and blog about the experience on CNN.com.

That's a situation many people, Thomas included, can relate to. Thomas, who said he had been working steadily since he was 13 years old, now receives $175 per month for food. That's about $5.83 per day -- less than $2 per meal.

Not that Thomas is complaining. After getting his first payment, which is added to an inconspicuous debit card to reduce the stigma associated with the program, Thomas went straight to the grocery store. He was hungry and grateful.

"It's definitely been a blessing to me," he said of the food stamp program, which, since October, has gone by the name Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Advocates for the poor, as well as those on federal assistance, hope President Obama's economic stimulus plan will increase food stamp payments. The average family on food stamps would receive $79 more per month if the stimulus bill passes in the U.S. Senate this week, according to The New York Times. iReport.com: How are you doing in this tough economy?

There is some debate about whether giving people money to spend on groceries is a valid form of economic stimulus.

Few are more hopeful the measure will pass than Crystal Sears, a 30-year-old mother in Germantown, Pennsylvania, who said she has been on food stamps for more than three years.

Sears said she sometimes skips meals so her three children can eat. Even with federal assistance, she said, she sometimes has to make a meal for herself out of crackers or food scraps.

She said she has been out of work for several years because all three of her children have medical conditions: Her 8-year-old son has a seizure disorder that requires frequent hospital visits and constant attention; her 2-year-old daughter was born with heart problems; and her 12-year-old daughter has scoliosis, a back condition that recently required two surgeries, she said.

Without much money, she's forced to make tough choices.

"If the kids needed sneakers and their sneakers are getting too small, or if my water bill is past due, I'd opt not to pay it and risk them sending me a shut-off notice just so my children can eat," she said.

Sometimes she chooses to buy more food instead of paying her gas bill to heat her home. When she does, the family sleeps huddled around their stove or an electric heater, she said.

Her monthly food stamp payment is $489, she said. That's sometimes sufficient. But some months, she said, she doesn't receive full payments because of mix-ups with paperwork. Until recently, she said, she received about $250 per month, which she said was far from enough to feed her family of four.

The SNAP program is meant to supplement a person's food budget, not cover all food expenses, said Jean Daniel, a spokesperson for the USDA, which administers the program.

Taking on part-time work would further complicate the application process, she said. Sears said she worked for seven years at a Salvation Army shelter before becoming unemployed.

"For me, I've always been a helper. And my thing is I don't like to help people to enable them. I like to help people so they can help themselves in the long run," she said.

Sears stretches her food budget by buying cheap and sometimes fatty meals. She said she doesn't like doing that but can't avoid it. With food prices high, she said, grocery shopping is stressful.

"We get like the mac and cheese, which is dehydrated cheese -- basically food that's no good for you health wise," she said. "Everything is high in sodium and trans fats ... and that's all we basically can afford. There's not enough assistance to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight."

Advocates for the hungry say many people on the food stamp program opt to buy less-healthy foods because they can't afford fresh fruits and vegetables on such a tight budget.

Food stamp "benefits aren't really enough for a healthy diet," said Jim Weill, president of the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center.

Sears said she is grateful for the help she does get.

Maribel Diaz, a 36-year-old mother of three boys in Los Angeles, California, said her $319-per-month payment isn't always enough.

But she said she would starve herself before letting her boys go hungry.

"You're bringing home less bags [of food] now, because the milk is almost $5 a gallon and the bread is $3 a loaf. ... A chicken is, like, now $8," Diaz said. "If you're really breaking it down, you're not bringing a lot of groceries home."

All SNAP recipients are eligible for free nutritional counseling to help people stretch their food budgets, said Daniel, of the USDA.

Advocates for the hungry find flaws in the way the program is set up, but they praise it for being a safety net the government can't take away during tough times.

Unlike aid to soup kitchens, the food stamp program receives federal funding in times thick and thin, and has a $6 billion backup fund, Daniel said.

"The money will be found so people are not turned away," Daniel said.

All of the benefits paid to participants come from the federal government. States split the program's administrative costs.

Advocates see some flaws in SNAP but generally give it praise.

"I say about food stamps what Winston Churchill said about democracy: 'It's the worst possible system except all the others,' " said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York Coalition Against Hunger.

Berg said the program's benefits are too small and too difficult for people to obtain.

But the food stamp program is somewhat successful, he said.

"The main purpose of the program is to wipe out Third World starvation in America, and it's worked," he said, adding that he's optimistic about improvements that could come as part of the economic stimulus plan.

Thomas, the laid-off furniture worker in Washington, said he doesn't want people to feel sorry for him.

After being let go from his store, he stopped at an employment center before going anywhere else. He said he faxed about 20 résumés to similar companies on that very day.

None has resulted in a job yet, but Thomas said he has been to interviews for other types of work and hopes employment will come soon.

For now, he's just happy to continue the job search without the pain of hunger nagging at his stomach.

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