Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Friday, May 28, 2010

Modern Masterpieces

The Wall Street Journal

Vann Molyvann, Cambodia's greatest living architect, recalls that the night his Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh was completed, in 1964, "I took my wife to see the work." Sitting in the top tier of the stands, they listened to Dvorák's "New World Symphony" over the stadium's speaker system. "It was one of the great moments of my life."

In the years after Cambodia won independence from France in 1953, Mr. Molyvann—then scarcely in his 30s—set out under the tutelage of King Norodom Sihanouk to transform Phnom Penh from a colonial backwater into a modern city. But in the late 1960s the country was drawn into decades of war and terror, including years under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, and Mr. Molyvann's vision was virtually forgotten. The architect himself had to flee the country.

And while he returned in triumph after more than 20 years abroad, it was to find that grand titles didn't translate into influence in today's Cambodia. His legacy—structures in a style dubbed New Khmer Architecture—lives on, contributing significantly to the flair of the city, but even that is in danger as Phnom Penh, like other Asian capitals, clears historic buildings to make room for skyscrapers.

Cambodia is best known for its magnificent temple ruins at Angkor, remnants of a great Southeast Asian empire that covered the country's current territory as well as parts of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. After Angkor fell to the Siamese in the 15th century, a new Cambodian capital was founded on the banks of the Tonlé Sap River. That city, Phnom Penh, remained an unstable settlement, caught up in the geopolitical ambitions of Cambodia's more powerful neighbors, until the French arrived in the 1860s. The colonial administrators drained the neighboring swamps and created a grid street plan, dotted with sumptuous villas, Art Deco markets and impressive government structures.

Even then, Phnom Penh was modest, small-town colonial France—and when Mr. Molyvann received a scholarship from the colonial government and set off for the Sorbonne in Paris, it wasn't with the dream of returning to remake it. He was a law student. But as he pursued his degree, and struggled with the compulsory Greek and Latin, he had an encounter that changed his life.

"I met Henri Marchal, the curator of Angkor for the École Française d'Extrême-Orient [the French School of Asian Studies]," Mr. Molvyann remembers, "and suddenly I knew I wanted to be an architect, so I changed to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, where I studied until 1950 under Le Corbusier." He regards that modernist architect and designer as his greatest teacher.

After that, Mr. Molyvann stayed on in Paris for several more years, studying Khmer art. While he looks back fondly on the period, he is also keenly aware that some of Cambodia's later traumas had their origins in the Paris of that time.

"The Khmer Rouge was born in the Latin quarter of Paris," he says. As they debated their country's postcolonial future, Mr. Molyvann says, the city's 400 or so Cambodian students split between nationalists and Marxists. Khieu Samphan, whom he knew as a fellow Sorbonne student, would go on to become head of state in the Khmer Rouge government.

By 1956, Mr. Molyvann was back in Phnom Penh. Independence had broadened Cambodia's horizons, in part thanks to the efforts of King Sihanouk, who at various times officially dropped his title to serve as prime minister, head of state or president, though Cambodians continued to refer to him as king. With tremendous energy and not a little royal eccentricity, the young monarch—also politician, artist, filmmaker, womanizer and host to a series of foreign heads of state and celebrities—worked to create a modern nation with an eye on the past. The leading members of an emerging urban elite, many of whom, like Mr. Molyvann, had returned from Paris, sought to create architecture, music, films, literature and art that married Cambodian tradition with modernist thinking.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in new administrative, public and private building projects that sprang up all over the capital—transforming Phnom Penh, within little more than a decade, into one of Asia's most dynamic cities.

"It was difficult at the beginning, as Cambodians had never heard of architects," Mr. Molyvann remembers. "All they knew were engineers and builders. There was a real dearth of qualified Khmer experts, as the French had used Vietnamese to administer my country. But within 10 years of independence the management of the country and its capital was Khmer. It was incredible."

Mr. Molyvann was made chief architect for state buildings and director for urban planning and habitat in 1956 and given a number of ministerial posts in the following years. "I was designing the Independence Monument and was asked to present the king with a selection of marble," he recalls. "I was too afraid to speak to him personally, but he made some suggestions and we got on perfectly after that." Shaped like a lotus flower, the monument tower, completed in 1960, remains one of Phnom Penh's landmarks.

Mr. Molyvann had part of the floodplain south of the Royal Palace drained and filled, and on this "Front de Bassac" constructed the country's first high-rises, initially for visiting athletes for the 1966 Ganefo Games, a short-lived Asian alternative to the Olympics.

"We built the stadium for 60,000 people and surrounded it with a moat, so that the waters could run off in the rainy season," he says.

Stefanie Irmer, whose KA Tours focuses on New Khmer Architecture, sees the relation between water and city as crucial to the architect's vision for Phnom Penh. "Besides creating the 'Front de Bassac' area from wetlands," she says, "almost every building Vann Molyvann designed was surrounded by water—to keep the termites out, but also to integrate the buildings into the flood plain."

Many of Mr. Molyvann's buildings are traditional in one sense—they are shaped like familiar objects. Chaktomuk Conference Hall, one of his earliest designs, is like an open palm leaf. The library of the Institute of Foreign Languages (now part of the Royal University of Phnom Penh) was inspired by a traditional Khmer straw hat. The lecture halls of the institute rest on sharply angled concrete pillars that give them the appearance of animals, about to jump. They are still in use today, as is the library.

By the early 1960s, for the first time in almost 800 years, Cambodia was blooming. The Angkor ruins were the region's biggest tourist draw, and Phnom Penh had doubled in size and become a city others in the region admired.

But the politics were turning ugly. Norodom Sihanouk, serving as prime minister, began to suppress dissent. By the mid-1960s, the U.S. had combat troops in Vietnam; as American planes began bombing North Vietnamese positions in Cambodia, the country's policy of neutrality became a farce. The former king's repressive policies alienated the political left and some rural Cambodians, who began to join a shadowy communist movement, the Khmer Rouge. Meanwhile, the right and military had become fed up with his capriciousness and nepotism. When he left to visit China in 1970, a coup replaced him with army general Lon Nol. The Swinging '60s, the meteoric rise of a young nation, the building boom in the "Pearl of Asia"—it was all over.

Mr. Molyvann remembers days with hard choices. "Shortly after Lon Nol came to power, the Israeli ambassador advised me to take my family out of the country," he says; the ambassador, a friend of his, warned him about the crumbling security and the increasing persecution of those connected with the previous government. So when Mr. Molyvann left for a conference in Israel, with his wife, Trudy, and their six children, they didn't return. Instead they moved on to Switzerland, his wife's home country.

Five years later, the Khmer Rouge marched victoriously into Phnom Penh. The new rulers immediately emptied the cities, and for almost four years Phnom Penh was a ghost town. At least 1.5 million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the population—Mr. Molyvann's father among them—lost their lives in the killing fields. The fledgling intellectual elite was snuffed out.

"I had no contact during those years," says Mr. Molyvann. "I had to give my children a new life, so we stayed in Lausanne." He continued to work as an architect in Switzerland, Africa and Laos, for the United Nations and the World Bank. The Vietnamese pushed out the Khmer Rouge in 1979, but Mr. Molyvann "could not think of going back." The new rulers "were still communists."

"It was not until 1993 that I returned—with the U.N.," he says. Initially, his homecoming was triumphant. He was appointed minister of state for culture and fine arts, territorial management and urban planning and contributed to the application for Angkor's successful recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site.

But he soon realized that the Cambodia he had left behind in 1970 no longer existed. Cambodian People's Party leader Hun Sen, who had been installed by the Vietnamese and who continued as prime minister after the U.N.-organized elections, gave Mr. Molyvann back his villa, but the architect's plans for Siem Reap—the province in which Angkor is located—were unappreciated. He had called for a "tourist village" set apart from both the temples and the old town of Siem Reap, integrated into the environment and with water conservation as a key goal.

"The government wanted to use the resources of Angkor to develop Siem Reap without the participation of the local people," Mr. Molyvann says. "In 1998, I became president executive director of Apsara (Authority for the Protection and Safeguard of Angkor), the government body created to look after the temples. Three years later, I was fired." Unchecked development in Siem Reap has led to a dramatic drop in groundwater levels, causing subsidence that has put the Bayon, one of the main temples in the Angkor area, in danger of collapse, according to experts from the Japanese Conservation Team for Safeguarding Angkor. Development has also driven up property prices and the cost of living, a hardship for the locals in a province that remains one of the poorest in the country.

But it was not just the government and developers standing against Mr. Molyvann and his vision. Bill Greaves, director of the Vann Molyvann Project, a nongovernmental organization engaged in recreating the lost plans of the remaining New Khmer Architecture sites, thinks postwar Cambodia is simply not aware of its past.

"Right now, Singapore and Shanghai are models for forward-looking cities, both for the government and the people," he says. "Hence Phnom Penh's different stages of history are likely to be discarded."

In the past decade, as investment has begun to pour into the Cambodian capital once more, colonial and 1960s buildings have been replaced by chrome-and-glass edifices, floodwater lakes have been drained, local media have reported almost daily evictions and ministers have gushed over the need to build skyscrapers in order to keep up with the neighbors.

The government frequently declares that preservation has to go hand in hand with development. In practice, it seems to walk well behind. Beng Khemro, deputy director general at the ministry for land management, urban planning and construction, says his department's hands are tied. "Many historical properties are in terrible condition," he says. "The people who own them don't understand the value of the past and would rather demolish them and build high-rises to make a profit. The past is not appreciated. Without a change in attitude amongst the population, we are fighting a losing battle."

Cambodia has preservation laws, and Dr. Khemro says he is trying to pass a regulation to get them applied in particular instances. He'd like to try a pilot preservation project away from Phnom Penh, he says, noting that Cambodia's second-largest city, Battambang, has many buildings from the French period.

"Also," he adds, "there's less pressure."

Molyvann advocate Mr. Greaves is skeptical about the survival of the architect's legacy. "The old buildings disappear at an alarming rate—even public edifices like the National Theatre, which was knocked down a couple of years ago, are not safe. We try and get there before the demolition crews arrive."

A drive around town with Mr. Molyvann illustrates his curious position in this free-for-all scramble for change. At the Independence Monument, guards at first refuse him entry. Only after his driver reveals the distinguished visitor's identity is the master architect, old and frail, allowed to climb the steps he designed half a century ago.

Passing the stadium, Mr. Molyvann looks at the haphazard development around his favorite creation. Appropriated by developers with government connections, the moat has been partly filled in to make space for shops and an underground car park; the result is annual flooding that threatens the entire sports complex.

With equal shades of sadness and anger in his voice, Mr. Molyvann says, "Today, it's not the state who owns the old properties, but the ruling party, the CPP."
—Tom Vater is a writer based in Bangkok.


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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cambodian Factories Seek Eco-Friendly Power Alternatives

The New York Times

PHNOM PENH — Almost every day for the past 15 years Cheang Vet, a roadside mechanic near Phnom Penh’s Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, has witnessed the constant flow of traffic making its way in and out of the capital by its main northeasterly access point.

But in the last decade, as the number of people employed in Cambodia’s garment sector has increased from about 25,000 in 2000 to around 300,000 today, he has noticed a steady increase in one particular type of vehicle entering Phnom Penh: heavy-load trucks carrying huge stacks of firewood.

“There are at least 10 trucks a day carrying about two and a half tons of firewood,” Mr. Vet estimated. “They tell me they are on their way to the garment factories on the other side of the city.”

The majority of the country’s garment factories — making clothes for brand names in the U.S. and European markets — use firewood to heat old-fashioned boilers that produce hot water for dying fabrics and steam for ironing.

Some factories depend on firewood to supply all of their energy needs, according to industry experts.

Indeed, the use of firewood for energy is widely considered better for the environment than fossil fuels, as trees can be replanted to offset carbon emissions released during combustion. But replanting plans are limited here, while demand for firewood is growing.

In the 1990s, large areas of Cambodia’s rubber plantations — planted by the French in the early 20th century — had aged to the point where their yields of latex, the sap from which natural rubber is made, had dropped considerably, requiring extensive replanting.

Felling old trees made large quantities of rubber wood available to the emerging garment and brick factories in the Phnom Penh region.

But, according to a report released last year by the French environmental organization Geres, this source of timber is running out.

The Geres report found that 69 of the 310 garment factories then registered with the manufacturers’ association said they were using rubber wood to produce steam for ironing and dyeing clothes. In total, Geres estimated that garment factories burned around 65,000 cubic meters, or about 2.3 million cubic feet, of wood every month.

But a “critical period” started in 2009, the report said, “where rubber wood will not be available in sufficient quantity to supply the industrial sector its energy requirements.”

Energy experts and environmentalists say that timber is now being obtained instead from the country’s remaining natural-growth forests.

Graeme Brown, a private consultant working on natural resource management issues, said that a heightened demand for new rubber plantation acreage was leading to forest clearance, creating a “ready supply of natural forest timber.”

With the costs of wood-fired heating far lower than the cost of electricity from the national grid — power prices in Cambodia are among the highest in the region because of poor infrastructure and the use of inefficient diesel generators — there are fears that demand for firewood will continue to grow.

Still, there are signs that Cambodia’s garment factories, after a decade of efforts to improve labor standards, are now starting to concern themselves with environmental issues, too.

Albert Tan, vice president of Suntex, a Singaporean-owned garment factory in Phnom Penh, said the company had brought in a team of engineers from Malaysia to assess ways the factory could use less energy.

Mr. Tan said that wasting less energy would allow the factory to burn less wood and would also reduce dependence on diesel-powered backup generators in the event of a power cut — a frequent occurrence in Cambodia.

“There are not many results yet, but some studies are going on to see how best we can be eco-friendly and take care of the environment,” he said.

The owners of the factory, which produces about 2.5 million pieces of clothing per month for export to client brands in the United States and Europe, are also considering installing a gasification unit that would convert biomass or organic waste into cleaner-burning, more efficient synthetic gas, he added.

Rin Seyha, managing director of SME Renewable Energy, in Phnom Penh, said his company had been approached by several garment factories looking to use gasification.

But the technology available in Cambodia is still insufficient for large energy users like clothing factories, he said, and potential clients are often put off by the cost of importing larger units.

A gasification plant with a one megawatt generating capacity, imported from India, costs $300,000. Mr. Seyha’s company sold just one plant to a garment factory last year and so far in 2010 has aroused interest in three more. After 70 factories shut down during the global financial crisis, there are now about 250 factories operating in Cambodia.

Cutting down on emissions from burning wood and protecting the forests would help the industry’s image with environmentally conscious consumer abroad. But profit-focused private investors often balk at the first hurdle when it comes to introducing more environmentally friendly technology, because they consider the costs involved to be too high, said Yohanes Iwan Baskoro, country director for Geres.

Investors need to be educated to understand that improved technology can achieve a profitable return for companies in the long run, he said, adding that as well as fiscal incentives from the government, the banking sector also needs more encouragement to provide loans for environmental improvement.

“If we can’t show that there is profits in it for them I don’t think they will participate,” Mr. Baskoro said.

Julia Brickell, resident representative in Phnom Penh for the World Bank’s private-sector lender, the International Finance Corp., also said lenders needed to be persuaded.

“Financial institutions may focus too much on the short-term costs of investing in energy-efficiency improvements and not immediately see the longer-term benefits for their potential clients in terms of cost savings,” Ms. Brickell said. “This may impact their willingness to provide financing for technological upgrades.”

Garment workshops often operate from leased premises and lack fixed assets to provide collateral for loans, she added. “This may also result in reluctance on the part of the financial institutions to extend financing for energy efficiency improvements.”

Still, some progress is being made. A factory in Kandal Province, near Phnom Penh, which supplies garments to Hennes & Mauritz of Sweden and Marks & Spencer of Britain, is a case in point.

Wood is still being used to heat the factory’s boilers, but the company is using its staff house to test energy saving technologies on a small scale.

“Every factory wants to save costs, and our biggest cost is electricity,” said a manager at the factory, who spoke on condition of anonymity because, she said, bosses in Hong Kong had asked her to keep a low profile.

The company, one of Cambodia’s largest with nearly 3,000 workers, has installed solar panels on the roof of its staff house, where 50 air-conditioned rooms accommodate the management. To discourage energy waste, anyone using more than 200 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month is charged 50 cents per extra kilowatt-hour used.

Marks & Spencer is advising the factory through its so-called Plan A corporate strategy, to focus on improving environmental standards. More efficient lighting, better insulation and improved temperature control are three measures that have been identified.

At another factory, in Phnom Penh, where roughly 1,000 workers make luxury menswear for export, a program to fit energy-saving light bulbs is under way. With 3,500 neon lights in operation throughout the day, a sizable reduction in electricity consumption is expected, the factory’s general manager said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

But balancing the need for increased productivity — Cambodia’s work force is among the least productive in the region, reflecting poor training levels — against the investments needed for better environmental standards is an almost impossible challenge, this manager said.

“The bottom line is this industry — in particular the garment sector — is the toughest sector in terms of competition,” he said. “Some people just can’t afford to make some of the changes that are being recommended.”

And according to several economic analysts and consultants here, who declined to be named because of the delicacy of the issue, it is not in the interests of manufacturers to show they can afford to install environmentally friendly technologies, because their brand-name clients may respond by putting pressure on them to lower their costs.

Still, Kanwarpreet Singh, chief representative for the H&M clothing brand in Cambodia, said that the industry as a whole was looking into newer and cleaner technologies to improve its image.

“If you use a lot of firewood, then it is not good for the environment,” he said. “As a company we try to encourage other sources of energy.”

Although Hennes & Mauritz factories use firewood as an energy source, Mr. Singh said, the company was evaluating alternatives.

For now, though, those are still unclear, and as Cambodia struggles to recover from a slump last year in exports to key U.S. and European markets, improving energy standards in factories is not a priority, he said.

Garment exports, accounting for 90 percent of Cambodia’s total exports, dropped almost 20 percent by value in 2009, to $2.38 billion.

“Nowadays one has to compete globally,” said Permod Kumar Gupta, chief technical adviser for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Cambodia. “We have to think, in the coming years, if we are not able to compete economically, environmentally and socially then difficulties will remain in how to compete with countries like China.”

Regardless of environmental concerns, Cambodia’s garment sector desperately needs to improve energy efficiency, with some factories spending up to $1,700 to produce a ton of clothing — more than three times the amount in neighboring Vietnam.

“In terms of energy efficiency, the sectors that are using biomass are particularly wasteful,” said Mr. Gupta.


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Find beauty in a far place in Cambodia

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

One of the more famous views of the temple at Angkor Wat, near Siem Reap, Cambodia, is made twice as nice by a reflecting pool.

SIEM REAP, Cambodia -- When people talk about vacation destinations, Cambodia, notorious for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, doesn't often come up in the conversation. But three decades later, this is a country worth considering for a distinctive adventure vacation.

Although Cambodia is still relatively off the beaten path, Siem Reap, the town nearest the iconic temples of Angkor, is quickly becoming tourist savvy. New businesses catering to travelers and renovations to the temples at Angkor are changing the region rapidly, thus visitors interested in a more authentic experience should go before the destination is "discovered."

It can be a pricey trip as airfare is expensive and first-class accommodations can send the total cost into several thousand dollars. But it is also possible to stay in more modest but completely acceptable lodgings for $20 a night and to have decent meals at a nice restaurant for about $5.

Foreign visitors are rare but are likely to be greeted with curious looks and friendly smiles at Siem Reap's New Market.

If you're traveling on a really tight budget, $1 will get you a bunk for the night in a dorm-style room at some guest houses and may include free Internet access. Also, basic stir-fry can be found at street-side cafes for about $1.50. Many places accept U.S. currency as well as the Cambodian riel.

Temples and tourists

Siem Reap serves as a starting point for exploring the spectacular ancient temples in the region including Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm. (The latter was featured in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.) It costs $20 for a day pass to visit the temples in the main Angkor complex.

A girl checks the fence line of a fishery in Kompong Khleang, a fishing village on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.

Architecture and history buffs may want to spend multiple days on guided tours of the Khmer temples, which were built between the ninth and 13th centuries. More casual tourists may find that one day is enough.

The heat, crowds and vendors can be overwhelming at these temples. However, you may opt for a trip to the less-visited temples about an hour from Siem Reap.

I visited Cambodia on my own for three days before joining a tour group in Bangkok, Thailand. Because of my crammed schedule, I decided to spend one day at the Angkor Complex, one day at Beng Melea -- a more remote temple in the jungle with a $5 entry fee -- and the last day enjoying the shops, local markets and inexpensive massages in Siem Reap.

I hired a driver from my guest house for the day ($15). His knowledge of the temples was rudimentary, but since I was mainly interested in seeing and photographing their most striking aspects, I didn't need much of a history lesson. However, I did see other visitors listening intently as guides explained enigmatic gigantic carved faces and yards of bas relief depicting Hindu mythology.

I visited the UNESCO World Heritage site, taking photos and seeing a variety of temples, often referring to my reference book, Marilia Albanese's The Treasures of Angkor. To my driver's chagrin, I set a punishing pace and we visited five temples in six hours with a one-hour lunch break.

I was worried that my hiking sandals might not be enough protection from poisonous snakes, but my driver assured me that snakes were scarce since they were on the local menu. He added that we might see monkeys, which were protected by law.

Since I visited the temples the same morning I arrived, there was no chance to see the classic shot of Angkor Wat silhouetted at dawn. Instead, we started at Ta Som, a relatively small temple that is not as crowded as many others. Ta Som is famous for one of its entrances, which is wrapped in the roots of a giant sacred fig tree. It has a similar feel to the more popular Ta Prohm but without the crowds and wooden walkways.

Next, my driver suggested I might enjoy the East Mebon, which has some impressive statues of elephants and lions as well as other interesting architectural features. We stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants near the temples and then continued to Ta Prohm, Bayon and finally Angkor Wat.

A market to avoid

My adventure continued the next day with the same driver, who chauffeured me around on a slow-moving tuk tuk, a cart pulled by a motorcycle. I think we reached a top speed of 30 miles per hour in a vehicle that seemed to amplify every bump and dip in the road.

Early risers can see vendors setting out fruits and vegetables at Samaki market in Siem Reap.

However, the two-hour journey was more productive than a one-hour trip in an air conditioned van because I could take photos as we went and interact with the locals, who would smile, wave or shout "hello" as we passed.

We spent the morning at Beng Melea, set off from the main road by a short walk into the jungle. From online photos I had the impression that it was more remote and overgrown than it was, but it still had less tamed feel than the temples at Angkor.

After a brief lunch at a restaurant across the street, my driver asked me if I wanted to see a floating market. Later, I learned this is a common scam where they take you to the market, charge you an exorbitant fee for the boat rental and then guide you to market stalls owned by their friends, who urge you to purchase overpriced goods.

Unaware, I agreed. When we got to the boat launch, I was told it would cost me $35 for four hours on one of the boats. I tried to bargain for less time and money, but the boat operators wouldn't go below $30. Instead, I left the tuk tuk for a walking break and toured a small fishing village on Tonle Sap Lake called Kompong Khleang.

To thank the local kids for posing for photos, I bought each a mandarin orange from a nearby stall.

After a long day and a bouncy ride back to the guest house, I visited the night market in Siem Reap, which caters to tourists. Almost everyone at the market speaks some English and classic American rock music blares from the bar. I ate at an Indian restaurant and then got a massage for about $6 while relaxing in the open air.

Buying fair-trade goods

I had reserved my last day for touring the local markets and shopping. Given the subsistence-level farming in the town outside of Siem Reap and the obvious poverty in the region, shopping seemed frivolous.

But a new type of boutique has surfaced in Siem Reap as well as other parts of the world. They are fair-trade stores, which cost a little more but their goal is to teach their workers how to make a living and create a sustainable product that meets public demands.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Meaning of Wealth Translated Around the World

By Robert Frank
The Wall Street Journal

A chauffeur stands besides a Rolls Royce Phantom outside the Shanghri-la Hotel, in Shanghai.

We like to think the reasons for seeking wealth are universal. Humans, by nature, like to be comfortable, like to have power and like to have the choices and freedoms offered by lots of stuff and money.

Yet it turns out there are some regional variations in the meaning of wealth around the world.

The new Barclay’s Wealth Insights study, released this morning from Barclay’s Wealth and Ledbury Research, finds that the emerging-market rich view wealth very differently from the older-money Europeans and the slightly less nouveaux Americans.

The study surveyed 2,000 people from 20 countries with investible assets of $1.5 million or more. They shared some common themes: a vast majority of rich people from all regions agreed that wealth enables them to buy the best products and that wealth gives them freedom of choice in their life. Most also agreed that wealth is a reward for hard work.

But the differences are more interesting:

Respect–Asians and Latin Americans were more likely (49% and 47%) to say that wealth “allows me to get respect from friends and family.” Only 28% of Europeans and 38% of Americans said respect was a byproduct of wealth.

Charity–About three-quarters of respondents in the U.S. and Latin America said wealth enabled them to give to charity. That compares with 57% in Europe and 66% in Asia.

Happiness–About two thirds of Europeans and Americans said wealth made them happy. But it had a greater happiness affect in emerging markets, with 76% of Asians and Latin Americans saying wealth made them happy.

Role Models–Less than half of Americans and Europeans say the wealthy “set an important example to others to be successful.” That compares with 71% of Latin Americans and 61% of Asians.

Spending–Wealthy Europeans are far more likely to spend their dough on travel and interior decorating. Latin Americans seem to put the highest spending priority on education, while the U.S. surges above the rest in philanthropy (which the report counts as spending).

We can read several things into the differences. Most obviously, the U.S. has a more formalized and tax-favorable system of philanthropy than the rest of the world. (It is too sweeping to say Americans are the most “generous.”)

What is more, the global financial crisis may have tarnished the image of the wealthy–even among the wealthy. And finally, the longer a country has wealth, the less it craves the attention and respect wealth brings.

What patterns or explanations do you see in the regional differences?


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Mu Sochua Summoned to Appear in Supreme Court on 2 June


Mu Sochua Summoned to Appear in Supreme Court on 2 June

Phnom Penh, 25 May: Opposition Sam Rainsy Party Member of Parliament and human rights advocate Mu Sochua has been summoned by the Cambodian Supreme Court to appear for a hearing at 8:00 a.m. on 2 June, 2010, when the Court will make a final ruling on a defamation charge brought against her by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mu Sochua has expressed hope that the Supreme Court will make a fair ruling in the case. However, she repeats her initial position that she will refuse to pay the fine if the court upholds her guilty verdict because the decisions of the lowers courts were politically-motivated.

Mu Sochua’s position is driven by principles of fair trial, freedom of speech, and gender justice:

Fair Trial

The judiciary is well-known for corruption and control by the executive branch, and by those who have political influence and money. The lack of reforms of the judiciary in Cambodia and the direct manipulation of the justice system by the executive must be condemned and immediate steps must be taken to allow judges and lawyers to exercise their roles and functions according to the rule of law and the principle of independence of judges and lawyers.

Freedom of Speech

Criminal charges of defamation, disinformation and incitement are being used to silence critics of the government, including journalists, trade union leaders, teachers and villagers, who dare to speak out against injustices. Even citizens seeking assistance from opposition MPs as victims of land grabbing, corruption, and abuse by local authorities are directly threatened and labeled as opposition activists. They are closely monitored and are often arrested without warrants.

Gender Justice

Women in Cambodia are expected not to speak out against abuses of any kind, and to silently suffer with injustices. Despite the number of strong women willing to risk their lives to organize against land grabbing and other community concerns, the backlash against their “audacity” has been even more fierce.

Mu Sochua thus calls on civil society and the international community to continue their vigilance of the current surge of defamation cases against dissenting voices, partisan political pressure on the judiciary, and troubling status of women.

She calls on the international community to remain vigilant in the next few weeks, and to take action to pressure the Cambodian government to:

• Reform the judiciary and ensure independent and impartial trials for all who come before the courts.
• Halt criminal prosecutions of critics of the government, who must be allowed freedom of speech.

Mu Sochua also calls for renewed momentum in Cambodia and across the globe to create social and institutional changes necessary to ensure equal respect and dignity for women in Cambodia – especially those who dare to stand up for their beliefs and speak out against injustice.


In April 2009, following a confrontation with military police during which Mu Sochua’s blouse was torn by an officer, Prime Minister Hun Sen made a speech in Kampot Province attacking Mu Sochua’s character as a woman. He called Mu Sochua “strong leg”, a term considered to be an offensive insult against women in Cambodia; he also called her a “gangster/thug” and suggested that she intentionally disrobed in front of the officer.

In response, Mu Sochua sued Hun Sen for defamation, demanding a symbolic sum of 500 riel (about USD 12 cents). Mu Sochua’s aim was to make a statement, for equal treatment of Cambodian women whom she believes were all affected by Hun Sen’s words. However, with the judiciary lacking independence from the executive, the Court dismissed her case for lack of evidence. Furthermore, in return, in June of the same year, Hun Sen sued her and had her stripped of her parliamentary immunity during a closed-door, executive-dominated parliamentary session.

In August 2009, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mu Sochua guilty of defamation and ordered her to pay 16.5 million riels (around US$3,975) in fines and compensation to Hun Sen, a verdict that was upheld by the Court of Appeal in October.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

'Dear Leader' won't go quietly

The history of regimes such as Cambodia's Khmer Rouge is that they do not willingly yield. So there can be no real compromise with North Korea and Kim Jong Il.

May 19, 2010|Donald Kirk, Donald Kirk, based in South Korea, covered Cambodia and Vietnam in the late 1960s and early '70s for newspapers and magazines. He is the author of several books, most recently "Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine."

PHNOM PENH — Is the regime of Kim Jong Il the cruelest the world has seen since Adolf Hitler's in Germany or Josef Stalin's in the Soviet Union? For all the world has heard about North Korea and its people's suffering, the answer is no. The dubious distinction of cruelest probably belongs to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. That regime took over Cambodia in 1975 and ruled from the once-tranquil capital of Phnom Penh until December 1978, when Vietnamese communist troops drove it out. About 2 million people are estimated to have died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, from disease, starvation, executions and torture.

The suffering under the Khmer Rouge is resonant with the plight North Koreans have endured for many more years. Today, however, Phnom Penh is bustling, alive with shops selling an incredible variety of silk, statuary, silver objects and souvenirs. Restaurants offer just about any menu. The streets are swarming with traffic as motor scooters dart in and out and larger vehicles carry people and commercial products. Motorcycles pulling what look like small, old-fashioned carriages offer taxi services. Internet cafes thrive in every marketplace. Casinos and nightclubs lure those in search of higher-priced fun, and the National Museum and Royal Palace offer lush and rich glimpses of Khmer civilization and heritage going back 2,000 years.

So what lesson is there -- for North Korea and the world -- in the transformation of Cambodia from a frightening dictatorship into a hustling if not exactly democratic society? The revelation of North Korea's role in torpedoing a South Korean navy ship in March, with the loss of 46 lives, suggests why it's necessary to transform rule in the North as urgently as it was to end the Khmer Rouge's rule in Cambodia nearly 22 years ago.

Cambodia's current system, in which Hun Sen has ruled as prime minister, with the backing of Vietnam, almost continuously for 25 years, is not at all ideal. Many of the country's 15 million people continue to suffer economically. And it's fair to assume that torture and killings go on, although not on a mass scale.

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Cambodians mark 'Day of Anger' to remember victims of Khmer Rouge genocide

By Sopheng Cheang (CP)

Cambodians pray during the annual 'Day of Anger' at the Choeung Ek killing fields

CHOEUNG EK, Cambodia — Cambodia marked the annual "Day of Anger" Thursday by re-enacting torture and executions inflicted by the Khmer Rouge during their reign of terror in the 1970s.

About 3,000 people, including hundreds of Buddhist monks, gathered at Choeung Ek, a former Khmer Rouge "killing field" dotted with mass graves about nine miles (15 kilometres) south of Phnom Penh.

Some 40 students re-enacted the torture and execution methods of the Khmer Rouge in performances staged near a memorial filled with victims' skulls and mass graves where thousands of people were buried.

The "Day of Anger," an commemoration that began in the 1980s after the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge regime was toppled, was initially used to rally support for the ongoing guerrilla war against the group. Once a major, well-organized occasion, its promotion declined after the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 that put a formal end to the country's civil conflict.

Five of the Khmer Rouge regime's leaders are being detained by a U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal, awaiting trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Those trials may begin late this year or early next year.

The tribunal is seeking justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition under during the regime's 1975-79 rule.

Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who commanded the notorious S-21 prison where as many as 16,000 people are believed to have been tortured before being sent to Choeung Ek for execution, is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions.

The verdict from the tribunal's first defendant is expected in the next few months.

Some relatives of the Khmer Rouge victims Thursday expressed hope that the Khmer Rouge leaders would be finally brought to justice.

"I know that the tribunal is facing financial problems but I urge again and again that the court should speed up their process more quickly because the defendants are getting old now," said Kao Ka Ol, 60, who said that more than a dozen of his relatives were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

"Talking about Khmer Rouge regime, my anger remains forever in my brain. I have been waiting for justice for more than 30 years now," he said.

More about Khmer Rouge

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The end of democracy in Thailand?

By Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly

Thailand’s fledgling democracy is now all but dead; bloodied and battered on the streets of Bangkok. How did this happen?

In 2005 we were in a northern Thai village undertaking field research on local economic and political issues. Our research coincided with the national election held in February that year. Thaksin Shinawatra’s now disbanded “Thais Love Thais” party, backed up by a formidable campaign machine, stormed to victory with strong support in the rural north and northeast. It was Thailand’s most comprehensive election victory ever.

In the country’s rural heartlands Thaksin’s policies of universal health care, infrastructure investment, local economic stimulus, and agricultural debt relief were wildly popular. Even the murders that punctuated his bloody “war on drugs” were applauded by many rural Thais who were fed up with the nightmare of narcotic abuse. To succeed at the ballot box, Thaksin learned to speak the language of rural Thailand in a cadence that alternated between populism and brutality.

In the northern village where we were working, Thaksin’s policies were not embraced uncritically. Vigorous debate about the positive and negative impacts of government action on local livelihoods was an everyday aspect of electoral culture. Many commentators say that rural people don’t care about government corruption. Of course they do, but they have their own ways of weighing up the contentious trade-off between private gain and public benefit.

In 2005, these debates informed a vigorous local tussle between the sitting “Thais Love Thais” candidate and a popular opposition figure who had served the area well in previous governments. This was a very real contest.

On election day the village hall was set-up to meet the strict requirements of Thailand’s electoral laws. Officials, conscripted from the ranks of local school teachers and village leaders, managed the hundreds of voters who came to exercise their franchise. The turnout was more than 80 per cent. Scrutineers nominated by the main candidates amiably watched over proceedings.

At the end of the day, once the lines of voters had fulfilled their obligations, the ballot boxes were sealed with string and wax and then transported, under police guard and with a sizeable escort, to the electorate’s vote-counting centre in the grounds of a provincial high school.

The ballot boxes from far-flung villagers were assembled for the count. Groups from each village waited patiently to empty their ballot box into the huge tub from which the votes were retrieved. College students were enlisted to count the votes and write the growing tallies on results boards.

For those, like us, for whom elections involve a night in front of the television, this was an extraordinarily open and participatory event. It was held, quite literally, in the public gaze. By the end of the night it was clear that Thaksin’s man had won, despite a strong showing from his opponent in many villages.

Thailand’s voters have been through this process twice since then. In 2006 Thaksin called a snap election in response to street protests in Bangkok. The opposition, lead by the current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, boycotted the election, knowing they had no chance of victory. Thaksin attracted over 60 per cent of the valid votes cast. He was eventually overthrown in the coup of September 2006 and another election was held in December 2007.

Thaksin was in exile, but his political allies won again, falling just short of an absolute majority. But the anti-Thaksin forces could not accept this result either and they managed to manoeuvre Abhisit Vejjaiva into power on the back of the yellow shirt occupation of Bangkok’s international airport and the dissolution of the pro-Thaksin governing party.

The detailed history of the tactics of the red shirts, since they began their current round of protests in Bangkok on March 12 will be written in the coming months and years.

There have been mistakes, miscalculations and some unedifying displays of thuggery and provocation. But the underlying motivation of the protesters is clear: they are fed up with having election results overturned.

They have gone peacefully to the ballot box three times since 2005 and each time elite forces associated with the palace, the military, the judiciary and Abhisit’s Democrat Party, have disregarded their decision. The red shirts have been told that their votes don’t count, that they are uneducated country bumpkins, and that they sell their votes to the highest bidder.

It is unsurprising that many of them were suspicious about Abhisit’s offer to hold yet another election on November 14. There were even more suspicious about the willingness of the forces that back Abhisit to respect its result. The elite’s disregard for electoral processes has opened the door for violent elements on both sides of the political spectrum.

So where to now?

Many in Thailand, including some of the villagers in the north, may be hoping that Thailand’s long-reigning king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, will intervene and talk some royal sense into the combatants as he famously did in May 1992 after more than 40 protesters had been killed on the streets of Bangkok.

But, in 2010, this is unlikely to happen again.

Quite apart from the king’s extremely fragile health, the palace has made it clear since the 2006 coup that it sides with anti-Thaksin forces. When the anti-Thaksin yellow shirts occupied Bangkok’s international airport in November and December 2008, they did so under an explicit royal banner with all of the protections that such palace endorsement implies. By contrast, the prospect of royal intervention to save the red shirts from the wrath of the military is now remote.

In fact, some are starting to wonder out loud if Thailand’s monarchy is now, in fact, part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Decades of national faith invested in an unelected monarch as the ultimate source of authority and salvation in times of crisis has stunted the development of robust democratic institutions. Thailand has put too many eggs into the royal basket and now lacks the institutional wherewithal to constructively resolve political divisions.

There is considerable truth to the old joke that Thailand is the world’s longest lasting fledgling democracy, and that truth owes much to the fact that the symbolic power of the monarch has overshadowed opportunities for elected politicians to manage national affairs.

When the shooting and burning in Bangkok finally subsides Thailand is going to have to rebuild faith in its basic democratic institutions. Cultivating a more respectful attitude to the political choices of its many rural inhabitants would be a good place to start.

Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly are Southeast Asia specialists in the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific. They are the co-founders of New Mandala, a blog on mainland Southeast Asian politics and societies.

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Worst may be yet to come in deepening Thai crisis

(Reuters) – Five days of chaotic street fighting. A rising death toll. Unrest spreading to rural heartlands. A prime minister who won’t back down. Protesters willing to fight to the death.

Thailand’s political crisis has lurched from festive anti-government rallies in March to violent gun fights in April to full-scale urban warfare in May, but experts say the worst may be yet to come as thousands of troops struggle to restore order.

“The fact that so many people have died without the army having gained much ground seems like a rather ominous sign,” said Federico Ferrara, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore.

“Having already started opening fire on civilians, journalists, emergency medical personnel, and generally everything that moves, the difference between 50, 100, or 200 deaths is just a number on a piece of paper.”

The government blames those killings on unidentified shadowy gunmen allied with the protesters, adding to the fog of uncertainty over the bloodshed.

The death toll — 37 killed and 266 wounded since Thursday — has shocked Thailand as much as images of parts of its capital reduced to a battleground. Most analysts say British-born, Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva won’t last long.

Whether he resigns depends on whether this operation ends in heavy losses. At the moment, that’s a strong possibility.

Neither side is backing down.

Even if Abhisit disperses the crowd, his political prospects look uncertain, dimmed by weeks of bloodshed that includes 25 people killed and more than 1,000 wounded on April 10 when troops tried but failed to end protests in Bangkok’s old quarter.

Most had expected more progress by now.

While the military has finally established on Monday a thin cordon of troops around the 3 sq km (1.2 sq mile) encampment the “red shirts” have occupied the past six weeks, it remains porous. Many red shirts are circumventing army checkpoints to join the rally, navigating small streets, witnesses say.

The second and most difficult task — dispersing a crowd of about 5,000 in the barricaded area — hasn’t even started, and the government says it has no immediate plans to do so.


As troops get closer, the severity of the fighting — snipers, grenades, petrol bombs, automatic guns — is stirring talk of a wider civil conflict that has simmered below the surface for years, broadly pitting the urban poor and rural masses against Thailand’s powerful royalist establishment.

This poses plenty of risks. If the army fails to quell the unrest, other fissures in Thai society could flare into the open, pushing the crisis dangerously close to a long-discussed and much-feared tipping point toward a mass underclass uprising.

The police, instead of stopping it, could fuel it.

Police have long been sympathetic to the protest movement and its figurehead, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a graft-convicted populist billionaire and former policeman revered by the rural masses and reviled by middle classes who celebrated his ouster in a 2006 bloodless coup and subsequent self-exile.

The military itself is rife with splits.

Large numbers of soldiers of lower ranks and some senior officers who have been sidelined after Thaksin was toppled sympathized with the protesters, while the military’s top brass are at the other end of the political spectrum, allied with royalists and business elites.

Complicating matters is the silence of the country’s sole unifying figure, revered 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The world’s longest-reigning monarch famously diffused Thailand’s last major political crisis — a 1992 middle-class uprising against a military ruler.

After a deadly crackdown, the king brought the rival leaders prostrating before him and reprimanded them. With a few words, a deadly crisis was over.

Not this time. Hospitalized since September 19, the king rarely appears in public. When he does, he hasn’t addressed the crisis. Strict lese majeste laws make commenting on him difficult.

“The political divide is increasingly hard to bridge. Hardliners are gaining ground and moderates are being squeezed out,” said Viengrat Nethito of Chulalongkorn University.

“The king as a traditional conflict resolver and figure of moral authority is in hospital. That leaves few with enough credibility and moral authority to do the job of moderator.

“Many of the country’s elders have been discredited, polarized, politicized, and pulled to one end of the political spectrum or another. That leaves no one, or no strong enough institution, to moderate the larger conflict,” he said.

With no peacemaker, the risk of unrest is growing in the north and northeast, a red shirt stronghold, home to just over half of Thailand’s 67 million people. Scattered signs of unrest have erupted in recent days. The government has imposed a state of emergency in a quarter of the country to keep order.


Without major reforms to a political system that protesters claim favors the elite over rural masses, there’s little chance of stifling the anger that has erupted into violence in Bangkok.

Abhisit has offered a national reconciliation plan but has come under fire for failing to build political support to revise a military-written constitution that overtook a 1997 charter seen as Thailand’s most democratic constitution.

Analysts say the longer the fighting goes on — with troops opening fire on demonstrators fighting back with petrol bombs, slingshots and grenades — the weaker Abhisit looks, and the more alienated he becomes even by his own supporters.

“His position has been in jeopardy since he ordered the crackdown,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“He will go down in the Thai history as a leader who ordered the killing of the people, even when it meant saving the country — and his own power position.”

If pushed aside by his powerful backers, he would likely be replaced by a coalition partner deemed acceptable to the public in a caretaker role. That would do little to resolve the problem, potentially inciting more protests and strengthening the case for immediate polls the protesters’ allies would likely win.

That political victory could bring big changes, including the ousting of generals allied with Thailand’s royalist elite, a prospect royalists fear could diminish the power of the monarchy — and one Abhisit’s backers would fight to stop at all costs.

“Even if the protestors are dispersed, which obviously will eventually happen, the underlying social tensions and political tensions will not have been resolved, and they will come up again,” said Josh Kurlantzick of the U.S-based think tank, Council on Foreign Relations.

“It’s a fallacy for the government to think they can just crush this.”

(Additional reporting by Martin Petty; editing by Bill Tarrant)

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Message from H.E. Sam Rainsy sent today to Filipino President-elect Benigno Aquino

Mr. Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino III
Republic of the Philippines

Dear Noynoy,

I was so happy to learn today about your brilliant election as the new President of the Philippines. On this auspicious day, please accept my heartfelt congratulations and my very best wishes for the successful fulfilment of your historic mission at the helm of your country.

The tidal wave leading to your election as President of the Philippines brings an unprecedented hope not only to the Filipino people but to all the peoples in Asia who are longing for real democracy, better governance and social justice.

Among those peoples are the Cambodian people whom the Members of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party have the honour to represent.

My colleagues and I will remain always grateful to your regretted mother Corazon Aquino, to yourself, to all Congressmen, Senators, officials and members of the Liberal Party of the Philippines for your warm welcome to some twenty Members of Parliament from the Sam Rainsy Party in Manila, during my first exile from Cambodia in November 2005.

Thanks to the special relationship between the Liberal Party of the Philippines and the Sam Rainsy Party, in the framework of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats and through personal contacts, your friends in Cambodia consider the Philippines as their second home in Asia and are eager to work even more closely with likeminded people in your beautiful country.

At the invitation of the Liberal Party of the Philippines and along with many other members of CALD, I will be very happy to attend the official ceremony inaugurating you as President and Manuel "Mar" Roxas II as Vice-President of the Philippines, in Manila on June 27-July 1.

I look forward to having the honour of meeting you again on that great occasion.

With my highest regards,

Sam Rainsy
Cambodia’s opposition leader

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Singapore sand imports threaten Cambodian ecosystem, report warns

Global Witness claims Singapore is expanding its coastline with irresponsibly dredged sand from Cambodia

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent

Singapore is a small island state with big ambitions to increase its territory. Photograph: Getty Images

Singapore, which prides itself on being one of the most environmentally friendly nations in Asia, is expanding its coastline with irresponsibly dredged sand from Cambodia, according to a report from an environmental NGO.

Singapore, which prides itself on being one of the most environmentally friendly nations in Asia, is expanding its coastline with irresponsibly dredged sand from Cambodia, according to a report from an environmental NGO.

Global Witness says the lucrative sand trade devastates ecosystems, lacks regulatory oversight and enriches traders at the expense of local fishermen.

The report, Shifting Sand: how Singapore's demand for Cambodian sand threatens ecosystems and undermines good governance, reveals that much of the demand is from Singapore, a small island state with big ambitions to increase its territory. The city state of 4.9 million people has expanded its surface area from 582 sq km in the 1960s, to 710 sq km in 2008, an increase of 22%, and it has ambitious plans to reclaim further land from the sea.

This requires far more sand than the island is able to provide for itself, prompting suppliers and middlemen to dredge and buy overseas.

Cargo manifests and photographs in the report suggest Singapore imported 14.2m tonnes of sand worth $273m (£184m) in 2008 from Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia. Its sourcing has reportedly expanded recently to Burma, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

The lucrative trade has alarmed neighbouring nations, which have seen chunks of their land being shipped off. After local media reported the shrinkage of several islands in Indonesia, the government there banned sales of sand to Singapore in 2008. Malaysia and Vietnam have imposed similar controls.

After the trade moved to Cambodia, the prime minister, Hun Sen, announced last May that his country too would restrict exports of sand.

But Global Witness says coastal dredging operations have increased in the year since. The NGO estimates a single Cambodian province - Koh Kong - has an annual trade with Singapore worth $248m (£168m).

On a single day, the NGO says its investigators have seen nine dredgers inside a single protected area - the Peam Krasop wildlife sanctuary and Koh Kapik Ramsar site.

The dredging operations threaten mangrove swamps, coral reefs and the biggest seagrass bed in the South China Sea, which is home to several rare species including the Irrawaddy dolphin, dugong and seahorses, it said.

Local communities have reported a sharp fall in fish stocks and crab harvests. The Cambodian government has denied any link with dredging operations.

In Cambodia, at least 14 firms have been given dredging licenses. A tonne of sand, which costs $3 (£2) per tonne to extract, can be sold for $26 (£18) per tonne in Singapore. It is unclear how much of the revenues are returned to the people in the form of taxes.

"Cambodia's natural resource wealth should be lifting its population out of poverty. Instead, international aid has propped up basic services in Cambodia for over 15 years. Meanwhile, money from natural resources disappears into private bank accounts, and nearly 70% of the population subsists on less than $2 a day," said George Boden, campaigner at Global Witness.

The government of Singapore, which will this summer host the World Cities Summit - focusing on sustainability - denies any wrongdoing. It says the import of sand for reclamation is done on a commercial basis with safeguards for the environment.

"The policing and enforcement of sand extraction licences is ultimately the responsibility of the source country. However, Singapore will continue to play its part to ensure that sand is extracted in a legal and environmentally responsible manner," noted a statement by the Ministry of National Development. "We have not received any official notice on the ban of sand exports from Cambodia."

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On guard at Bangkok's frontlines

By Richard S Ehrlich

BANGKOK - He boasts of killing 20 Thai communists and fondly recalls working with the United States Central Intelligence Agency, but denies suspicions that he leads a death squad that is involved in bombings and shootings to help the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protest group cripple Bangkok.

Major General Khattiya "Seh Daeng" Sawatdiphol is one of the biggest reasons the government and military are afraid to attack the red shirts' barricades and clear them from Bangkok's streets.

"Every morning at 4am, I inspect all these barricades," Khattiya said in Thai during an interview next to barriers built with bamboo spikes, rubber tires, rags, flammable oil, concrete blocks and razor wire. "Every day I go out and do a reconnaissance. I do a tactical show of force."

He is wanted for questioning about a mysterious alleged death squad known as "Ronin Warriors". The government and military blame them for several recent killings stemming from dozens of unsolved M-79 grenade attacks on banks, electric pylons, army positions, an airport fuel depot, government offices and a crowd of people on Silom Road one evening near the red shirts' barricades.

Wearing a camouflage military uniform and canteen, Khattiya denied any link to the Ronin Warriors. But his frequent warnings of grenade attacks - right before they occur - have raised suspicions.

In February, he boasted of training hundreds of former Ranger paramilitary troops to protect the Reds. "If the state clamps down on us, we have to defend ourselves. We and our red shirt brothers may need to resort to weapons," he told reporters at the time.

When he discusses military tactics, people on all sides listen because his combat experience outweighs many officers in Thailand's coup-minded army. His snarling, insult-laden warnings come at a time when the government and military are licking their wounds after the army's disastrous failure to crush the reds' occupation of Bangkok's streets on April 10, which resulted in 25 deaths and 900 injured.

Khattiya said a Ronin Warriors' M-79 grenade assault killed several senior military officers during those clashes, forcing the army's retreat. The Ronin Warriors opened fire after a rival, hooded "men in black" death squad aided the government's side and killed civilians, he said.

"The Ronin Warriors help the red shirts because the government shoots the people," he said during the interview. "The men in black come from the government."

No one has independently confirmed all the facts of who killed whom that night.

Partly due to the Ronin Warriors' willingness to help the reds fight back, the military is unable or unwilling to use force to end the red shirts' occupation of Bangkok's streets, which began on March 12.

The Ronin Warriors could protect the red shirts behind the barricades, Khattiya said.

"I think they can, because the government's soldiers are wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests, and very tight clothing, and they will get very hot and suffer heat stroke" during their assault, he said. "There is no way for the army to dig a fortified position here on these streets. The army will be standing out as targets."

The Ronin have an advantage in urban warfare against the army, he said, pointing at the nearby security forces.

"Here there is a lot of concrete, and all these places where the Ronin can hide behind," he said, gesturing at several tall buildings, including shops, restaurants, offices, a hotel and a hospital.

A publicized rift between the army and police also makes the military vulnerable.

"If the army uses war weapons, the police at the front will turn around against the army, because the police are with the reds. In that event, the Ronin will have an advantage."

He could not, however, guarantee the Ronin would appear in time to rescue the reds.

"The reds have to hang on until the Ronin come to help. If the Ronin don't come, it is over. It is like the movie Braveheart. Thailand's Ronin Warriors use the name to honor stealthy Japanese ninjas. Thailand's version has “assault rifles, M-79 bombs and hand grenades. You don't need anything more than these for close combat like this. The Ronin and the enemy army have the same capability. It is a matter of tactics now."

Another reason Khattiya attracts listeners is because he says things designed to disgust and outrage.

"It is the thought process of homosexuals, using tanks and armor against the population," he said, laughing wildly while describing the evening street battle on April 10.

"The tactics you are supposed to use are to fight early in the morning, or during daylight hours, not at night. But the army acts with homosexual emotions."

When army commander-in-chief General Anupong Paojinda reassigned him to teach aerobics in 2008, Khattiya announced: "I have prepared one dance. It's called 'The Throwing a Hand Grenade Dance'."

Born in 1951, and due to retire in 2011, he is an "army specialist" but was "suspended" on January 14 by Anupong for alleged violations. The next day, a rocket-propelled M-79 grenade exploded in Anupong's office.

"Khattiya's predictions always turn out to be true," a government spokesman, Buranat Samutrak, said in January.

"Everybody thinks that I am the Ronin leader, the samurai. I deny. I deny. I am not a Ronin," Khattiya said during the interview. "I only want to fight with peaceful means."

Cursing, he demanded the arrests of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Deputy Prime Minister for Security Affairs Suthep Thaugsuban, Anupong, and others because "the government shot the citizens" on April 10.

Khattiya was once a Ranger, an often brutal paramilitary force that includes current and former troops loyal to him.

"A true soldier like me was never promoted to the position I should be. I helped kill 20 people, 20 enemies, and I was wounded." He says they were Thai communists, “killed in a tactical conflict, an ambush” that he led in northern Thailand near the border with communist Laos in 1976.

Some speculate Khattiya is using the reds so a cabal of rightwing military officers and retirees can seize power. Police jailed him for a couple of days in March for alleged weapons possession and helping a criminal suspect escape.

On nationwide TV, Abhisit publicly named Khattiya for the first time on April 25 and said without elaborating: "Everything is connected. All names like Seh Daeng [Khattiya]" and others were "not cases of coincidence".

His website, www.sae-dang.com, is officially blocked in Thailand but his books are bestsellers and he occasionally appears on TV talk shows. The major general is friendly with Thaksin Shinawatra, the former billionaire prime minister who was toppled in a 2006 military coup. Thaksin is an international fugitive dodging a two-year jail sentence for corruption. He is close to the reds shirts.

"On March 9, I was in Dubai and saw Thaksin and spoke with him, and [on May 3], I spoke on the telephone with him. I explained to Thaksin how the army committed murder on April 10, and how they are now bringing tanks and will do it again. I told him now we have to fight. They will shoot women and children. I also described the barricades here." because Thaksin is one of the reds' top leaders.

Other red leaders have distanced themselves from Khattiya, fearing his image is too violent. In turn, he has condemned them for recently retracting a barricade from a hospital.

"The red leadership don't agree with me, and they lost all this land by moving the barricades," he said, pointing at an unblocked street in front of Chulalongkorn Hospital.

The reds were denounced as thugs when some of them stormed the hospital on April 29 to search for army snipers, and left without finding any.

"There were soldiers inside," Khattiya insisted. "The red leaders are assuming the posture of retreating, but the red citizens are not. People said the red shirts were becoming stronger than Thaksin. Now the red shirts are going over the heads of the red leaders. They are scared their leaders will give up."

He said Thaksin told him on the telephone: "'Don't let a lot of people die. I don't want a lot of deaths. You have to hold back the army.'

"Thaksin has no idea about the tactics of fighting. But he's a nice guy."

Khattiya is also fond of America, which he has visited several times, including when his daughter recently graduated from George Washington University in Washington DC, he said.

"Earlier, I took General Vang Pao, from the Hmong resistance, to America."

Vang Pao was an infamous leader of the CIA's failed "secret war" in Laos up until 1975, when communists achieved victory alongside communists in Cambodia and Vietnam against the Americans.

Khattiya said he helped smuggle Vang Pao across Thailand into Malaysia. "I stayed with him in a safe house. I took Vang Pao out to Penang, and sent him to America. I also did fundraising with Vang Pao in America, for the anti-communist effort," during the past few decades.

Vang Pao was arrested in 2007 and charged with trying to purchase an anti-aircraft Stinger missile and other weapons in California, and was jailed for several months before being released and acquitted, though others in his group were sent to trial.

"I have a history of working with the CIA as well," Khattiya said, referring to US and Thai efforts to kill Communist Party of Thailand suspects during the 1970s.

Khattiya said he had a message for US President Barack Obama: "This government is murdering people. Bring the United Nations in, because it is going to be like Pol Pot, Mussolini and Hitler."

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California. He has reported news from Asia since 1978 and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, Hello My Big Big Honey! Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His website is www.asia-correspondent.110mb.com.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Chea Vichea Film to Be Shown

The Phnom Penh Post
Meas Sokchea and James O’toole

CAMBODIAN Confederation of Unions (CCU) President Rong Chhun says he will hold an outdoor screening of a controversial documentary about slain labour leader Chea Vichea on Saturday’s Labour Day holiday, despite not having received permission from government officials to do so.

Rong Chhun met at City Hall on Thursday for one hour with Koeut Chhe, the Phnom Penh Municipality’s deputy chief of cabinet, who told him that he could not show the film without first securing permission from the “relevant” government ministries such as the Ministry of Interior. The CCU president’s decision to flout the official’s orders could set up a confrontation, though it was unclear on Thursday how the government would respond to Rong Chhun’s decision.

“This country has laws, so if [Rong Chhun] is showing the film publicly, he must ask permission,” Koeut Chhe said following the meeting. “If he violates the law, that’s his business, but he must be responsible for his violations of the law.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thursday that because organisers are planning to show the film outdoors, jurisdiction over their activities falls to City Hall and the Ministry of Interior. Under the Kingdom’s new Demonstration Law, passed last year, government authorities may “take actions to cease” any unauthorised demonstrations or public gatherings.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Thursday called the film an “illegal import”. When asked how the government would respond to an unauthorised screening, he said to “wait and see on Saturday”.

Minister of Culture Him Chhem also claimed jurisdiction, saying that his ministry would have to grant permission before a public film screening could go ahead.

“Our Ministry has no problem with the screening. It is [Rong Chhun’s] right, but he must do it legally,” Him Chhem said.

Rong Chhun said Thursday that he planned to go ahead with the screening regardless of the government’s response, claiming he did not have enough time to secure permission from officials at the ministerial level.

“We have already seen politicians murdered, artists murdered, as well as an important union president murdered, and so far the authorities have not found the killers and their backers to be punished,” Rong Chhun said. “At 5:30pm on [Saturday], we are going to do everything according to the plan we submitted to the municipality – we will not withdraw.”

The CCU plans to screen the documentary near Chamkarmon district’s Wat Lanka, where Chea Mony was gunned down in 2004. The film, directed by American Bradley Cox, is currently touring film festivals and is scheduled for wider release in the US later this year.

Drawing from interviews with police, government officials and other public figures, including Chea Vichea himself, Cox’s film offers a portrayal of thuggish law enforcement and a kleptocratic ruling elite under Prime Minister Hun Sen. Although it does not make direct accusations, the film implies that Chea Vichea was killed because of his ties to the opposition, and that the two men convicted of the murder were framed.

Moeun Chhean Narridh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said Rong Chhun should attempt to get government authorisation “for extra precaution”, but should ultimately not be bound by attempts to constrain his freedom of expression.

“It does not cost anything just to ask permission, but if the Ministry of Culture or any other authorities do not give him permission, he should just go ahead and show the film anyway,” Moeun Chhean Narridh said.

Chea Mony, who has replaced his brother as president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, accused municipal officials of attempting to delay the screening and prevent the public from seeing the film.

“It is a pretext,” Chea Mony said. “If the authorities do not allow the screening, it means that they are afraid of learning more about Chea Vichea’s killing.”

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Cambodian crackdown decimates illegal pharmacies

Securing Pharma
Phil Taylor

The Cambodian government has completed a major anti-counterfeiting operation which has led to the closure of around 65 per cent of the illegal pharmacies operating in the country, according to the US Pharmacopeia.

Five manufacturers have also been banned from supplying products in Cambodia, said the USP, which supported the operation via its work on the Promoting the Quality of Medicines (PQM) project, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The crackdown, conducted over five months, targeted the illegal pharmacies because of evidence they were "among the primary sources of substandard and counterfeit medicines in the country," said the USP in a statement.

Between November 2009 and March 2010 the number of illegal pharmacies in operation was slashed from 1,081 to 379, according to data from the Cambodian Ministry of Health.

The operation is a major success for Cambodia's Inter-Ministerial Committee to Fight against Counterfeit & Substandard Medicines (IMC), which was set up in 2005 after a study showed that 16.2 per cent of malaria drugs sampled from retail pharmacy outlets in four Cambodian provinces were of poor quality.

Since then, there has been an alarming decline in therapeutic efficacy of recommended first-line antimalarials, e.g. artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) on the Cambodia-Thailand border which has been attributed to the prevalence of counterfeit and substandard antimalarial drugs, as well as general problems with healthcare provision.

The counterfeiters have also become increasingly sophisticated, carrying various types of fake holograms, and researchers headed by Paul Newton at the Centre for Tropical Medicine in Oxford, UK, have been engaged in chemical, mineralogical, biological, and packaging studies which indicate at least some the counterfeits were manufactured in the southeast region of China.

And the problem is also not confined to malaria drugs. More recently, a similar survey of antihelminthic medicines used to treat parasitic worm infections, published in the journal Tropical Medicine & International Health (May 2010), revealed that around 4 per cent of samples collected from private drug outlets were fake.

The emphasis of the PQM programme in the country is currently on antimalarials and antibiotics, according to the USP.

Meanwhile, through the IMC, Cambodia has also been running public awareness campaigns on television to warn of the dangers of counterfeits, focusing particularly on antimalarials, as well as alerts to warn healthcare professionals to be on the lookout.

Other partners in the latest operation included the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.


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Cambodia court rejects bail for K.Rouge leaders

Bangkok Post

Former Khmer Rouge minister Ieng Thirith attends the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh. Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court has denied bail for Ieng and two other former Khmer Rouge leaders, saying they may commit serious crimes and their detention was necessary to prevent trial tampering.

Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court on Friday denied bail for three former Khmer Rouge leaders, saying they may commit serious crimes and their detention was necessary to prevent trial tampering.

Judges rejected appeals from former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith, who all asked for release ahead of their trial expected next year.

The three leaders, who have been charged with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, torture and religious persecution, appealed against their detention late last year and earlier this year.

"The Pre-Trial Chamber of the (tribunal) dismissed appeals lodged by the charged persons," a statement from the court said.

The tribunal said detention of the ageing suspects "remains a necessary measure" to prevent the suspects from fleeing the trial and to ensure their security.

Khieu Samphan, 78, Ieng Sary, 84, and Ieng Thirith, 78, were arrested in November 2007 over their roles in the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge government, and have appealed annually for release from detention at the court.

The three leaders are being held along with the Khmer Rouge former "Brother Number Two" ideologue Nuon Chea and the regime's main prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation, disease and overwork as the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge movement emptied cities and enslaved the population on collective farms in its bid to create a communist utopia.

Final arguments in the court's first trial, of Duch, ended in November and a verdict is expected later this year.

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Movie review: 'Dancing Across Borders'

By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 2010

Sokvannara Sar was brought from Cambodia to learn classical ballet.

Typical Cambodian souvenirs include hand-woven silks and wood carvings, but Anne Bass, a donor to and member of many ballet boards, wasn't after typical. On her trip to Angkor Wat, she picked up a human being instead.

"Dancing Across Borders" is the documentary that Bass, a first-time filmmaker, made about her effort to bring a Cambodian teenager to New York, where he underwent the grueling process of becoming a classical ballet dancer.

Do-gooder vanity projects don't come more self-aggrandizing than this. Bass is onscreen nearly as much as her sweet-faced work-in-progress, Sokvannara Sar, with whom she became captivated after watching him perform in a traditional Khmer temple dance. If you're able to get past her narcissistic streak -- and really, how else do you make a movie about yourself without being filmed and interviewed in it? -- then you're faced with buying into a morally dicey endeavor.

It may seem like a good thing that a 16-year-old Cambodian without means was scooped up and deposited in Manhattan, where he could pursue the American dream, even if it meant wearing tights. Shouldn't we be impressed that he was saved? But hear Sar describe mixed feelings (mostly sad ones) about Bass's invitation, hear him talk about his reluctance to leave his mother and how lonely he was among the skyscrapers and perennially dissatisfied ballet teachers, and you may find Bass's unique twist on arts patronage uncomfortably one-sided.

This is particularly true when we see what Sar goes through to master in five years what takes 10 or 15 for a typical ballet dancer to learn. A professional dancer starts training as a child, when muscles and joints are more malleable. Sar, however, was nearly an adult, and his experience in Khmer dancing, with its emphasis on slow, gentle movements and sinking low into the ground, lent him some very lovely qualities but did not fully prepare him for ballet's speed, lyricism and perfection of form. Also, whether it was because he was a teenager or because he was unhappy or he just wasn't brought up in ballet's culture of subservience, Sar wasn't always a cooperative student.

Still, his teachers were intrigued by the challenge he posed. He was a combination of "the extraordinary and the complete lack of training," said Peter Boal, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer, who helped in Sar's grooming.

Eventually, Boal left City Ballet to direct Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet, and he hired Sar as an apprentice.

Much is made of the fact that, as a Cambodian ballet dancer, Sar is a cultural rarity. Indeed, he is a singular dancer, and the film is at its best when it captures him in glorious motion, particularly in a contemporary solo that was perfectly suited to his physical softness and delicacy. Perhaps things turned out okay for him, or at least better than fishing in the mud. But watching Sar's difficult journey, I felt like a voyeur to a slightly creepy case of noblesse oblige.

And here's a footnote to the success of Bass's project: Sar quit Pacific Northwest Ballet earlier this year.

** Unrated. At Landmark's E Street Cinema. Contains nothing offensive or violent. 88 minutes.

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